DeKalb legislators could undo commissioners’ 60 percent pay increase

Unhappy with DeKalb County commissioners giving themselves a 60 percent pay raise, members of the General Assembly may introduce bills that could delay or reduce the increase.

Sen. Fran Millar, R-Atlanta, whose district includes part of DeKalb, has criticized not just the size of the raises but how it was done. The pay increase was not on the agenda when it was brought up at the Feb. 27 board meeting, and there was no explanation or debate before the vote.

“I think people are upset about that, the way it was handled,” Millar said.

The 60 percent pay raise would take commissioners’ salaries from a base of $40,530 to $64,637 a year starting on Jan. 1. That is equal to 35 percent of what superior court judges make now.

No bills have been introduced yet, but Millar said he would be interested in supporting legislation that delays any pay increase to 2021 after the current terms for all seven commissioners and CEO Mike Thurmond have expired. Commissioners also voted to boost Thurmond’s pay by 3 percent, which is in line with what other county employees received this year. All the increases go into effect Jan. 1, 2019.

Commissioner Jeff Rader, who serves as presiding officer, said the board followed the law in approving the raises such as required legal notices.

“They can do whatever they want because they’re the General Assembly, but this action was taken in the way the General Assembly set us up to take action,” he said.

DeKalb Senate delegation members have also discussed capping how big of a pay increase commissioners can approve at a time. To become law, bills have to be approved in both chambers by March 29 when the session ends.

Local legislation generally requires the support of a majority of the delegation in either the House or Senate to be introduced. Republicans have recently proposed DeKalb-specific bills as general legislation in order to circumvent the delegation process, such as with the failed proposal to eliminate the CEO position.

Although it is too late for new general bills to be introduced, it may be possible to add a DeKalb amendment to existing legislation. Local bills can be introduced at any time.

Commissioners Larry Johnson, Gregory Adams and Rader are up for re-election this fall. The terms of the remaining four commissioners and Thurmond expire at the end of 2020. Thurmond did not have a vote in the pay-raise matter, but he allowed it to become law without his signature. His other options were to sign it or veto.

“Even though it’s legal at the present time, I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody give themselves a raise during their current term in office,” Millar said.

Rader said commissioners haven’t had a pay increase since 2004, when they voted themselves a salary equal to 25 percent of what superior court judges make. Over the years, judges have received sizeable increases.

Rader said commissioners took the matter into their own hands after two years of trying to get automatic pay increases approved through the DeKalb delegation.

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