Tasked with deciding whether to supplement Richmond County’s new sheriff and state court solicitor above and beyond their minimum salaries, the Augusta Commission heads into tricky but not uncharted waters.
Several city officials confirmed that Sheriff Richard Roundtree and Solicitor General Kellie Kenner-McIntyre requested local salary supplements of 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively, less than a month into each elected official’s first term.
The increases, presented to commissioners behind closed doors at a Jan. 27 legal meeting, would bring Roundtree’s salary from $110,000 to $127,000, slightly more than that of his predecessor Ronnie Strength, a Richmond County law officer of nearly 40 years who served three terms.
Kenner-McIntyre’s pay would increase from $97,000, the same amount paid her predecessor Charles Evans, to $106,700.
The salaries of local elected officials are determined by a complicated state formula that takes into account population, longevity, state-mandated cost-of-living increases, additional duties, local supplements and local legislation.
The minimum salary for a sheriff in a county such as Richmond whose population is between 200,000 and 249,000 is $86,592.30, according to the 2013 salary guide published by Association County Commissioners of Georgia. That figure is increased by $3,883.08 if a sheriff serves the courts, which Roundtree does, then adjusted by state-mandated cost-of-living adjustments of 2.89 percent and 3 percent, regardless of when the sheriff took office. For re-elected sheriffs, there’s also a 5 percent pay hike each time he or she wins another term.
The state total for Richmond County, $95,892.14, however, is superseded by local legislation. House Bill 831, sponsored in 2005 by Reps. Pete Warren, Henry Howard and Quincy Murphy, set the minimum salary of the Richmond County sheriff at $110,000.
House Bill 831 also set the Richmond County solicitor’s salary at $97,000.
Sheriff salaries vary widely among the state’s largest counties, from $102,095 paid to the sheriff of Forsyth County, population 181,840, to $146,239 paid to the sheriff of Fulton County, which has nearly 1 million residents, according to a 2012 salary survey from Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
News of the requests upset some employees, who have not been granted a raise this year by the commission, and from open government activists, who questioned why the requests were made behind closed doors.
“I’ve already had 10 to 12 deputies calling me raising hell about it,” Commissioner Joe Jackson said.
City General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie placed the Jan. 27 discussion behind closed doors about the request firmly within the “deliberating compensation of a public officer” exception to the Georgia Open Records Act. The law does not require the conversations to be private. Neither Roundtree nor Kenner-McIntyre returned calls requesting comment.
City Administrator Fred Russell said the commission likely won’t deliberate the raises in public but would vote on them publicly, possibly at a called legal meeting Monday.
Augusta’s administrator is authorized to award employee raises of 15 percent or less without commission approval, but not for elected officials, MacKenzie said.
While both Roundtree and Kenner-McIntyre are new to their jobs, Russell said he will recommend the commission award the requested increases.
“They fit right in within the scope of what they do,” Russell said. “You can also make the argument (for the sheriff’s salary) that that fits into the general framework for supervising 800 employees.”