Complaint about Twiggs commissioner’s pay raise prompts review

A dispute about a few hundred dollars’ pay for Twiggs County commissioners has called into question whether they have been overpaid for some time.

Tommie Lee Bryant, the commission’s District 1 representative, filed a claim Wednesday in Magistrate Court of Twiggs County against the four other members of the commission and County Manager Glenn Barton.

Bryant is demanding $469.56, plus $100 in unspecified costs. He says his paycheck should have included a 2.5 percent “longevity” raise since January 2009.

“They refused to pay me what belongs to me under the Georgia law,” Bryant said.

He said he doesn’t know if his fellow commissioners have seen the increase in their paychecks.

“I’m not concerned about the rest of the commissioners. I just want what belongs to me,” Bryant said.

He said he has served on the Twiggs County Commission for 24 years, longer than anyone else on the board. Since his 2008 re-election, Bryant said he’s been entitled to a 2.5 percent raise, based on a recent state law.

That part is not in dispute. Twiggs County Attorney Tom Richardson says there’s no question Bryant should get the raise, and he’s said that to commissioners themselves.

“I totally agree that he’s entitled to it, as is any other commissioner who was re-elected,” he said.

The question is whether Bryant and others may have essentially gotten it already, because the Twiggs commissioners’ pay may have been improperly calculated for years, Richardson said.

Commissioners aren’t paid much for what’s officially a part-time job: The chairman’s base salary is just $7,200 a year, while commissioners such as Bryant start at $5,400, Richardson said. But several variables can add to that, such as occasional cost-of-living increases.

Richardson said he advised commissioners to turn the tangle over to Bob Bennett, a certified public accountant with Giddens Bennett & Co. of Cochran, the auditor for Twiggs County.

“I just told them, ‘You need to get it right,’ ” Richardson said.

Twiggs County Commission Chairman Ray Bennett said the auditor’s report should be ready within a couple of weeks.

“We’ve taken the issue that he’s raised, which I’m entitled to myself, by the way ... and we have asked our accountant to give us a review of our records of payment,” Bennett said. “Anything that he’s due or that anyone else is due is going to be certainly made up or paid up. The indications were that it had already been included in our computations.”

This isn’t the first time Bryant has argued for higher pay, Bennett and Richardson said. But one previous effort was negated by an apparent mistake in record-keeping.

“Mr. Bryant felt like he was entitled to a 3 percent increase in his commissioner’s salary based on local legislation, which was enacted back in 1999,” Richardson said. “It turned out that that legislation was never approved by the state Legislature and never became law.”

When that measure failed, Bryant turned to the longevity statute, which sparked a closer look at how incremental raises had been calculated across the board, Richardson said.

“In looking at that, I think the question had come up as to whether they might have been paid too much,” he said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.