Update: Commissioner pay raise controversy reaches superior court

Attorneys representing DeKalb County and DeKalb County resident Ed Williams met in DeKalb County Superior Court Jan. 10 in downtown Decatur regarding commissioners’ vote to raise their pay by approximately 60-percent.

On Feb. 27, 2018 commissioners voted 6-1 to increase their yearly salaries from a base of $40,530 to $64,637. The approval created backlash from some DeKalb County residents.

On Aug. 28, Williams filed a lawsuit against the DeKalb County chief executive officer and county commissioners alleging the February 2018 meeting violated open meetings laws because the item was not placed on the meeting agenda. Williams also claimed there are a lack of records of discussions of the ordinance prior to the vote on the compensation increase.

“The law says all expected items must be placed on the agenda,” Williams said. “I can’t tell commissioners what they can put on the agenda, but the law says any item expected to be discussed must be placed on the agenda.”

Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr issued an opinion on commissioners’ pay raise on June 20.

“The board’s failure to include their salary increase on the meeting agenda in advance of the meeting not only frustrated the purpose of the Open Meetings Act, it violated the act’s requirement that ‘all matters expected to come before [the] agency’ should be included in the agenda,” Carr said in his letter.

One of the key arguments of Williams’ case, he said, stems from a state law which previously set the salary for commissioners and the county’s CEO.

“The defendants are not recognizing that there is an existing law that was passed in 1997 (Ga. L 1997 p 3822) that sets the board of commissioners’ and CEO’s salaries. That law has never been repealed,” Williams said. “They don’t speak about it because that’s the crux of the issue here. They do not have the power to repeal a local law. Only the general assembly can repeal a local law.”

Williams is representing himself in the case because, according to him, no attorney was willing or available to take the case.

Attorney Bennett Bryan, representing DeKalb’s CEO and commissioners, said commissioners are protected by legislative and official immunity which protects elected officials from liability in a civil lawsuit for duties that they performed within their office’s jurisdiction.

“In essence, [Williams] is upset that commissioners got a pay raise,” Bryan said. “He’s upset, and he doesn’t believe they should have a pay raise and he doesn’t believe commissioners have the power to give themselves a pay raise. However, the Georgia General Assembly has given all counties and governing authorities the power to do that.”

According to law O.C.G.A. 36-5-24, “unless otherwise provided by local law, the governing authority of each county is authorized to fix the salary, compensation, expenses, and expenses in the nature of compensation of the members of the governing authority.”

“He’s throwing everything he can in a 368-page complaint to see if anything sticks, but nothing sticks,” Bryan said. “Either [commissioners] are immune or he lacks standing.”

Judge Adams said he will take the complaint under advisement.

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One thought on “Update: Commissioner pay raise controversy reaches superior court

  • January 14, 2019 at 1:40 am
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    Mr. Williams is receiving support from every Dekalb voter that has been contacted so far. People seem to be more upset with the process used to get the raise rather than the raise itself.

    Reply

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