Commissioner pay increase case heard in Supreme Court

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DeKalb County resident Ed Williams said he struggled to find an attorney who would help present a case against the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners for allegedly violating the Open Meetings Act by not giving proper notice of the board’s intent to pass a pay increase for themselves.

However, Williams received the help he needed when a group of University of Georgia School of Law students represented Williams in a hearing before the Supreme Court of Georgia Oct. 22 in Atlanta.

On Feb. 27, 2018, DeKalb County commissioners approved a salary increase by a vote of 6-to-1 that would increase commissioners’ salaries from approximately $40,000 to $65,000. County officials advertised the vote for a pay increase for three consecutive weeks in The Champion—DeKalb County’s legal organ—but the proposed pay increase did not appear on the board’s published agenda.

“All expected items, items that you know will be voted on at the meeting, must be placed on the public meeting agenda [according to state law],” said UGA law student John Kenerly.
Kenerly also argued county commissioners do not have the authority to increase their pay without a prior referendum.

Williams said he was excited to have legal representation at the supreme court. Previously, Williams represented himself because no attorney agreed to take his case, he said.

“It was always my intention to have a lawyer present this case, but no lawyer in DeKalb County came to assist me. I had no choice but to do it myself because no other attorney stepped forward,” Williams said. “It was said that I’m a one-man show, but that was not by choice.”

The commissioners’ pay increase case was heard by DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams in January. Adams dismissed the case, citing Williams’ failure to submit proper documentation in time and failure to present any evidence to support his claims.

During the first hearing, attorney Bennett Bryan, representing the DeKalb governing authority, said commissioners are protected by legislative and official immunity.

“Because appellant Williams’s claims are supported only by his strongly held opinions and not by applicable law, the trial court’s dismissal of his lawsuit should be affirmed,” Bryan said. “County governing authorities have the authority to increase their own compensation under Georgia Code 36-5-24, and Williams has failed to establish a case of actual controversy as required.”

Williams said he hopes for a decision on the case by December and is thankful for the community support he has received.

“I did a lot of the legal work, but I had some great people who showed up today and showed their support for me,” Williams said. “This is not a one man show. There is community support and there are other people in the community who disagree with what the [DeKalb] governing authority did.”

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