February 9, 2006
First the firefighters got one, then utility workers. Then every city employee got an eight percent pay raise. But were elected officials meant to get the same increase? News 12 looks at how a local radio host is reopening a can of worms at the municipal building.
There are over 2,700 city employees who got those raises, including the sheriff, solicitor and the court clerk. The problem, some say, is that they are not city employees, instead they are elected officials. So why did they get a raise?
“Who gave Fred Russell the authority to give away the taxpayers’ money?” said Ryan B.
After obtaining records from Augusta’s Finance Office and getting complaints from his listeners, local radio host Ryan B. has questions for the city administrator.
“When the commission voted to give a four percent raise, that was for employees. That was not for elected officials and Mr. Russell knew that elected officials should not be receiving that money,” Ryan B said.
Two months ago, commissioners approved a raise for all city employees. Ryan says that should not have included elected officials because their salaries are set by the state legislature.
Mayor Copenhaver says that may be right.
“I thought the raises were for city employees and with regards to elected officials, I was not aware of them being covered in regards to that decision made by the commission,” Copenhaver said.
But City Administrator Fred Russell says he assumed commissioners meant for everyone to receive a raise.
“I asked did this include everybody and therefore everyone would include elected officials,” Russell said.
Ryan B. says that’s not true. He questions why originally Sheriff Ronnie Strength was the only elected official getting money.
“Initially he was giving this four percent to who he wanted to give it to and then as other elected officials found out, he started moving the money around,” Ryan B. said.
“We’re not county employees, we’re elected officials,” said Elaine Johnson.
And as an elected official, Clerk of Superior Court Elaine Johnson says at first she wasn’t getting that raise. But when she asked about it, the city administrator gave it to her. But she still felt uneasy.
“And I questioned it and was concerned because I thought our salaries were set by the legislation,” Johnson said.
“If I misinterpreted that or if there is some legality that says we cannot do that, I made a mistake and we need to correct that, wouldn’t be the first mistake and it won’t be the last,” Russell said.