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Augusta officials debate pay raise behind closed doors

February 11, 2021 GMT

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Government leaders in Augusta-Richmond County are considering increasing their pay, even as the mayor urges commissioners to consider wider changes to the government structure.

Local news outlets report the commission on Tuesday debated a move behind closed doors to roughly double its current pay. Most commissioners in the consolidated city-county make between $15,300 and $17,300 a year, while the elected mayor pro tem makes $27,041, and the mayor makes $84,983.

Low salaries have been blamed for low interest in serving on the commission, with candidates unwilling to sacrifice other employment for what commissioners say is much more than a part-time job.

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“I support an increase, based upon what I do,” Williams, a retired VA manager who is running for mayor next year, told The Augusta Chronicle. “There are some big tasks before you.”

Mayor Hardie Davis, though, said he told commissioners he wants a broader charter review commission to look at the law that consolidated Augusta and Richmond County.

Several efforts have failed to amend the 1996 law to increase the authority of the mayor or city administrator or have department heads report directly to one of them instead of the commission.

“Establishing a charter review commission allows us to holistically look at our government and not be narrowly focused on compensation,” Davis said in a statement. “This comprehensive review of the charter can make us more efficient and effective as a governmental body.”

Some questioned why the issue was discussed behind closed doors. David Hudson, a lawyer for the Georgia Press Association, told WJBF-TV that officials talking about their own pay is not a legal reason to have closed-door meeting in Georgia.

“The public has a keen interest in knowing how their expenditures are made — what may be self interest as part of the commissioners and the mayor in terms of salaries,” Hudson told WJBF-TV. “It should have been open to the public.”

Williams defended the decision to go behind closed doors.

“Well it’s a personnel issue; it could be a personnel issue,” he said, citing a reason that’s allowable for a closed session.

An effort to increase salaries failed last year, and some commissioners oppose a pay raise.

“I knew before going in what the salary is and I was fine with it. Others may push for that a lot harder than I will,” Commissioner Catherine Smith McKnight said.

Under state law, any increase would only take effect after elections for the mayor and five commissioners in 2022.

Changing the city’s charter or raising salaries requires the votes of eight commissioners. Legislators could also step in.