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Council's vote for raise handled poorly
Courier editorial
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You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar … or, as the Hinesville City Council recently demonstrated with its salary-increase vote, you garner more trust (and perhaps a pay raise) with open discussion.
It’s no secret Georgia’s in the midst of an economic crisis. Lawmakers are contending with a $1 billion budget shortfall, and the state Department of Labor recently reported Georgia’s unemployment numbers set a record high at 10.4 percent in January. And certainly these hardships have trickled down from the state government to individual cities. In Hinesville, families are scrimping to get by and the current deployment has left local businesses scurrying for customers and revenue.
So, it’s poor timing that council members voted for such large wage increase. The pay raise will not affect the current office holders but would go into effect in 2012. The increase will mean an extra $25,000 per year for the mayor and an extra $12,500 per year for each council member. It could be argued that the current wage levels are too low, however, there is a bigger issue here. The surreptitious manner in which the council slipped the vote into its Jan. 7 meeting is as alarming as the wage increase itself.
The vote was not on the council’s meeting agenda. And according to the Open Meetings Act, an agenda of items that will be addressed in a meeting must be posted in advance and given to anyone who requests a copy. The agenda does not prevent the council from acting on another matter that “becomes necessary.” However, 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. It’s not very likely the Hinesville City Council’s salary-increase vote was “necessary” that minute. 
Furthermore, the council voted on the matter after emerging from executive session and reconvening its meeting. Typically, although not always, an executive session comes at the end of a meeting. And since the incomplete agenda gave meeting attendees and the press no reason to believe anything else would be discussed or voted on following the closed-door session, most everyone left, allowing the council to take up the touchy matter in semi-privacy.    
If the mayor and the council think this raise is justified, they should discuss it openly and allow for comment.
This is the kind of maneuvering that makes citizens weary. The council should rethink the vote, which may be invalid anyway if they can’t prove it was necessary to act on a matter not on the agenda. While raises may not be a great idea right now, an open discussion will at least ensure they pass muster.
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