With no explanation or debate, the DeKalb Board of Commissioners voted to raise their salaries by nearly 60 percent. The proposal was quickly introduced and passed on Tuesday without going through the normal committee review process or even being included on the agenda.
Commissioners’ salaries will increase from a base of $40,530 to $64,637 a year starting on Jan. 1. CEO Mike Thurmond will also get 3-percent raise from $162,120 to $166,209.
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The measure approved by commissioners will pay them 35 percent of what DeKalb superior court judges make. That detail was not included in the legal notice that ran for three weeks ahead of Tuesday’s vote, which only gave a cumulative figure for the impact of the raises.
Commissioner Kathie Gannon said at the end of the meeting that she expected the board to be “raked over the coals” for giving themselves pay increases. She said the money is deserved because of the number of hours commissioners devote to what is technically a part-time job.
“I just absolutely think that it’s justified and if anyone would like to see what the hours are that I work I would invite them to spend the week with me,” she said.
DeKalb resident Stephen Binney approached Commissioner Jeff Rader, the presiding officer, and deputy presiding officer Steve Bradshaw after the meeting and chastised them for approving the raises after most of the audience had trickled out.
“I just said I thought it was kind of underhanded to bring it in as a sub and not have it on paper,” Binney said. “We didn’t even know how much or when it was going to take effect.”
A few people spoke during public comment to criticize commissioners for saying they deserved a higher salary. They argued the money would be put to better use recruiting police officers and improving public safety, but none appeared to be aware that the issue could be up for a vote later in the meeting.
Commissioners approved their pay hike on the same day they signed off on the 2018 budget, which includes a minimum wage increase for hourly employees and raises of up to 3 percent for other government workers.
Commissioner Nancy Jester was the only one to vote against the measure. She has long said she doesn’t support a salary increase although she did not debate against it during the meeting.
The Board of Commissioners had asked the DeKalb County legislative delegation this year and the last to approved a bill that would tie their pay to the salaries of superior court judges, resulting in an immediate boost. When that measure stalled in the General Assembly, commissioners decided to just do it themselves.
Rader said legal notices that publicized a plan to increase the compensation for commissioners were published as required by law. Commissioners decided to vote at Tuesday’s meeting because they can’t raise their salaries during the qualifying period for the 2018 elections that begins on March 5.
“The issue has been broadly discussed and debated,” Rader said. “We’ve heard about it many times at our public comments sessions and otherwise. The only thing that has changed is that in the absence of action by the legislature the Board of Commissioners took the action afforded to it by state statute to achieve the same goal.”
Several commissioners felt slighted last week when a bill eliminating DeKalb CEO form of government was approved in House committee without prior notice. He said the salary vote the board made Tuesday did not have the same issues of transparency as the CEO bill did.
“Because that had a substantial impact on the entire organization of the county, people reasonably were concerned,” he said. “But we have had this discussion and debate and we’ve heard quite a bit of input from people on the issue of the pay of the commissioners.”
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