With a marginal majority and a dose of fiery debate, the Augusta Commission approved an $80,000 a year salary Monday for new Public Works Director Teresa Smith.
Ms. Smith declined to comment after the vote was taken at a special called commission meeting.
The decision to award her more money, was made against the recommendation of City Administrator Randy Oliver who said it would be inconsistent with the compensation of other department directors. He recommended that she receive no more than $75,000 a year, saying that based on her experience she fell somewhere in the middle of the salary range for the position.
She requested a salary of $82,722 based on the promotion that was a two-step increase from her position as a pre-construction engineer with the county's Public Works and Engineering Department.
The public works director position has a salary grade of 61, which has a pay range between $53,711 and $85,937.
Current city policy, which can be overruled by a majority commission vote, states that salary increases for in-house promotions can be either a 15 percent raise or the minimum of the salary range for the new job, whichever is greater.
But commissioners typically set a negotiating range for the administrator to work with when it concerns a department director's job. The commission earlier this month authorized Mr. Oliver to negotiate a salary between $68,000 and $75,000 for Ms. Smith.
During the course of three votes on the salary issue, commissioners aired their opinions about recent media publicity surrounding Ms. Smith's request and delved into topics of discussion that took place during a closed, legal session last week.
"Nobody in legal session brought back that recommendation (for $80,000) to us," Commissioner Jerry Brigham said. "This is the fact that we made an authorization to the administrator and we are changing it - at least some of us are changing it.
"Six votes rules," he said. "I probably won't ever be on the majority side again."
A substitute motion to award Ms. Smith an $80,000 salary failed during its first run because two commissioners were absent and a motion to approve the higher salary could not earn six votes.
Lee Beard arrived shortly after the vote was taken and right before a vote on an original motion to award Ms. Smith $75,000 a year. That vote also failed, with Ulmer Bridges, Jerry Brigham, Bill Kuhlke and Steve Shepard voting yes and Mr. Beard, Henry Brigham, Marion Williams, Andy Cheek and Richard Colclough voting no. Mayor Pro Tem Willie Mays still had not arrived at the meeting.
When he did, Mr. Mays cast the vote that broke the deadlock, awarding Ms. Smith a higher salary with a 6-4 vote.
Those in favor of the higher salary said that offering city employees more competitive pay, particularly in engineering-related fields, would be the only way to retain qualified employees.
"Something's wrong with the system," Mr. Williams said. "It's time to do what's right. We need to pay people what they deserve."
Those against the increase cited city finances and Ms. Smith's lack of managerial experience.
"What I keep telling you as financial chair is this city lives on a fixed income," said Mr. Shepard, who also heads up the financial services committee. "This is not a systematic approach."
Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.