The Hinesville City Council voted Jan. 7, following a late afternoon, closed session, to more than double the salaries for mayors and council members. There is question, however, whether the vote was done legally.
The increase will go into effect in 2012, after the next municipal election, so current officeholders may not get the raises. Per the city charter, the mayor and council cannot raise their own salaries during their current terms.
According to information gleaned from meeting minutes, which the city typically posts three to four weeks after a meeting at http://www.mccinnovations.com/weblink/, the mayor’s salary will increase from $15,000 to $40,000 per year, and council members’ salaries, now set at $7,500 each, will increase to $20,000 annually.
Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards said the salary increase is commensurate with officials’ salaries in cities of similar size inGeorgia.
The discussion and subsequent vote of the salary increase did not appear as an agenda item on the Jan. 7, 2010, meeting agenda. The council had previously discussed the matter at a planning workshop held in July 2009, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said.
Augusta attorney David Hudson, an expert in Georgia’s Sunshine Laws, said, “OCGA 50-14-1(e) requires an agenda of items to come before a meeting to be posted in advance and given to any who request a copy. The agenda does not prevent acting on another matter, which ‘becomes necessary.’ A superior court order has held that simple convenience of the governing body is not a ‘necessary’ reason for acting on something not on the agenda. On that basis, your council should not have acted on a matter not disclosed in advance on the agenda.”
Thomas said he was not aware the issue had to be placed on the agenda, since it had been previously discussed in open session. Edwards, too, said he was not aware the item should have been placed on the Jan. 7 meeting agenda, but would “look into it.”
The mayor, according to the official Jan. 7, meeting minutes, did announce after council had moved to enter executive session at 4:15 p.m., “At the close of this session upon this (real estate) matter, mayor and council will re-enter into open session to continue with today’s agenda.”
The executive session began at 4:20 p.m. and was adjourned at 4:58 p.m. The open meeting was immediately reconvened at 4:58 p.m.
Hinesville City Clerk Sarah Lumpkin confirmed council discussed the salary increase in open session, once the public meeting was reconvened following the executive session.
City and county governments inGeorgiamay only discuss litigation, personnel and real estate matters behind closed doors. On Jan. 7, the city council discussed real estate and a personnel issue in an executive session, according to the official meeting minutes.