After a closed-door session with attorney Kelly Davis, Liberty County Commissioners voted unanimously - minus Commissioner Justin Frasier, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting - to ratify a $24,000 increase in annual pay they gave County Administrator Joey Brown in November.
As for why the raise wasn’t publically voted on when it was given in November, Davis said such raises were typically handled administratively, meaning the commissioners do not vote on the matter and were considered to have approved the raise when they adopted the annual budget that included the funds.
Davis said individual salaries are not specified in the budget and instead "they’re lumped in together with other funds."
That’s not the way it should have been done, according to David Hudson, an attorney for the Georgia Press Association.
The commission either should have voted on the raise in an open meeting from the outset, or the raise should have been disclosed in the public budget.
"It takes a vote in public, although the amount of the raise could have been discussed in a closed meeting," Hudson said.
But, Hudson said, the issue is now a moot point, because the county’s action Tuesday "cures any deficiency in how the raise was initially discussed or improved."
For his part, Brown said, "I am honored and humbled to be able to be the county administrator here. I look forward to continuing to work with the board and citizens in order to insure that we are one of the most progressive and successful counties in the state."
The increase brought Brown’s pay up to $155,000 annually, comparable to Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards’ salary of $155,130 and Liberty County Development Authority CEO Ron Tolley’s pay of $155,064.
Each of the three men has worked in local government for more than 30 years.
None of the salaries are above the salary range
Other local government ‘CEO’ salaries include the $190,000 paid annually to Liberty County school superintendent, Dr. Valya Lee. As a comparison, Bryan County Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher is paid $197,000 annually, according to opengeorgia.gov.
Lee is leaving the system at the end of the school year, and in a controversial decision the Liberty County School Board recently approved paying Lee her full salary for next year after she and the board agreed to part ways.
Liberty Regional Medical Center CEO Michael Hester is paid $216,320 and is eligible for a 10 percent bonus from the hospital board.
That’s under the average $417,602 annual pay for hospital CEOs in Georgia.
Also Tuesday, a major upgrade to Liberty County’s E911 service got a step closer when the commissioners approved $1.3 million in hardware purchases and related costs.
Motorola was the only proposal received on the replacement of consoles, a new system driver and other equipment needed. Some of Liberty County’s 911 equipment is 18 years old and officials said the upgrade will represent a generational shift in service to residents.
The improvements in the 911 system will begin coming on line in about a year and are completely funded by the special purpose local option sales tax.
Brown said Motorola was giving the county a 12-month delay in paying for the new equipment; this will allow the county to save up SPLOST funds as the come in and the county will pay no penalty or interest to Motorola.
Last month the commissioners approved $438,000 for the software need for the improved E911 system.
Liberty County E911 Director Tom Wahl was at the March 16 meeting and advised the commissioners on the purchase. Wahl passed away March 19 and the commissioners observed a moment of silence in his honor before taking up the Motorola proposal.
County Engineer Trent Long briefed the commissioners on roads being widened and resurfaced, and striping and landscaping plans.
After a question by First District Commissioner Marion Stevens Long said the county was "pretty deep into" a project near Lake No No in the Lake George area. Stevens and Long said they had worked for more than two years to secure a drainage easement but had reached a stalemate.
In other business the commissioners adopted a proclamation identifying April as National County Government Month. Assistant County Administrator Bob Sprinkel presented a calendar of special activities during April including the Great American Cleanup on April 29.
First Presbyterian Christian Academy student Ali Dye led both the prayer and the pledge of allegiance opening the commission’s meeting.