‘Sneak’ vote on county pay hike illegal?
When the Fayette County Commission voted at its Oct. 28 meeting to authorize $579,000 for employee “pay for performance” raises, it did so without providing notice to the public in advance. The idea was suggested by Commission Chairman Jack Smith during a discussion that was advertised on the commission’s agenda as “Further discussion resulting from a previous request from staff concerning current account and fund balances for Fiscal Year 2010.”
Items which are not listed on the agenda should not be discussed during a public meeting unless they are “necessary to address during the course of a meeting,” according to Georgia’s open meetings law, said Hollie Manheimer, Executive Director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.
“If the ‘necessary’ threshold is not met, the Open Meetings Act prohibits additions not listed on the agenda to be discussed,” Manheimer said.
The county’s agenda is typically published the Monday prior to its Thursday meeting. While the concept of raises for county employees was not published on the agenda, the concept was vetted in advance of the meeting because County Manager Jack Krakeel was able to quote for the commission exactly how much the raises would cost the county.
County Commission Chairman Jack Smith brought up the matter of the raises, noting that over the past four years the county has saved $10 million, including a $3 million figure in the recently-ended budget year.
Smith was not available for comment about the matter Tuesday.
The raises are expected to be revisited at a future commission meeting, as a request has been made to make employees at the top of their pay grade eligible for a one-time payment instead of a raise, as county policy prohibits performance raises for those highest-paid employees.
At a recent workshop meeting, Commissioner Eric Maxwell said he strongly opposed that change for fear that the performance raises would be given to the employees on the higher end of the pay scale instead of those who might truly deserve it.
Smith said at the time that he would rather the matter be considered at a later date so absent Commissioner Herb Frady could contribute his thoughts to the discussion.
The raises will not be given across the board to all county employees. Instead they will only be given to qualified employees who are vetted through the county’s latest “pay for performance” evaluation program.
That program was adopted three years ago but has never been used, as the economy has led to no pay raises of any kind for county employees the past three years.
Smith has said the reason the county has been able to “under-spend” its budget by $10 million in the past four years has been the dedication of employees, a number of whom have absorbed larger workloads as the county has had a hiring freeze for three consecutive years which meant that as employees left they have not been replaced, with the exception of those in public safety.
“They have not had cost of living raises, merit raises, pay for performance or any other method of increase, yet they have continued to do their job and they have done it well,” Smith said.
The county’s pay for performance program allows most employees to be eligible for raises of either 2.5 or 5 percent. But the commission only set aside funding equal to 2.5 percent of all county employees’ salary, so it remains uncertain how many employees will be awarded the pay for performance raises.
County Manager Jack Krakeel said the intent of the county’s new pay for performance plan is to “reward employees who go above and beyond the requirements of the job.”
It will be up to department heads and managers to determine who their star performers are and to award them accordingly, Krakeel noted.
Krakeel noted that the county’s current workforce is about 5 percent smaller than it was three years ago due to the hiring freeze and positions that have remained unfilled due to attrition.