Fewer elected officials and more pay? Bibb lawmakers debate raises, commission makeup

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert during a commission meeting in 2016.
Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert during a commission meeting in 2016. breaking@macon.com

A plan to increase the salaries of Macon-Bibb County commissioners and the mayor has been tabled for now. However, earlier this week, members of the County Commission debated pay raises, the size of the commission and redrawing district lines.

The issue sparked discussions about what the salaries should be for the area’s top elected officials. Currently, Mayor Robert Reichert is paid $100,000 annually for his full-time position, while the nine part-time commissioners each get $15,000 per year.

An analysis by The Telegraph reviewed the salaries of elected leaders in similar sized cities and chief executives in private industry statewide. It found that the mayor’s current salary is higher than the salaries of mayors in Savannah and Columbus, but is lower than the average pay for top chiefs in the private sector.

Any proposed pay raises would be contingent on reducing the size of the commission and were aimed at attracting more people to run for public office, said Commissioner Joe Allen, who made the proposal.

Under Allen’s tabled plan, the mayor’s salary would have jumped from $100,000 to $120,000 and commissioners pay would go from $15,000 to $20,000 annually starting in 2021, the beginning of a new term for the mayor and commissioners.

The commission would have been reduced to five commissioners, so a pay increase would have cost the county the same as it currently does — $235,000 a year, Allen said.

“It would bring new people to the table that wouldn’t come to the table for $15,000,” he said. “The bottom line is you want the best people you can get to help run the government.”

In Savannah, the mayor earns a salary of $57,000 and the eight aldermen make $25,000 per year, according to Kenneth Slatkovsky , the city’s interim public information officer.

Unlike Macon, Slatkovsky said Savannah’s mayors sometimes work other jobs while serving in the office.

In Columbus, another comparable city, the mayor’s salary is set at $84,747, according to 2017 data. The mayor there is full time.

Meanwhile, for private industry, the average mean salary for 6,480 chief executives in Georgia in 2017 was $217,560, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Commissioner Al Tillman also said increasing the pay could entice more people to run for Macon-Bibb commission. Because of the time commitment, people who work a 9-to-5 job may find it tough, Tillman said.

“Now, you have to be retired or an entrepreneur,” he said. “The average person is not going to make a living in public office for $15,000. You have to be truly dedicated and have money coming in to be a commissioner.”

At least one commissioner says he opposes giving more pay to the commission members.

“Now is definitely not the time to be increasing anybody’s salary around this table,” Commissioner Larry Schlesinger said at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Fewer Macon-Bibb commissioners

Part of the commission’s debate centers around redistricting, which would be based on U.S. census data, and whether there would be enough time to change the districts before the 2020 election.

Allen and a couple of his colleagues say a smaller commission could mean a better running government operation for the roughly 154,000 residents of Macon-Bibb.

Allen says it’ll be up to his colleagues on whether they want to discuss downsizing the commission again. He said the former Bibb commission that he served on, which was made up of five members prior to the city and county merger in 2014, worked well.

“I think with less people we could come up with better ideas and we could work things out without controversy,” he said.

Some county leaders say the size of the current commission is fine in view of those it represents.

“We have a very diverse community that’s growing in its diversity from age to sex to race to everything,” Commissioner Virgil Watkins said Tuesday. “The more people you put at the table, the better your odds for receiving a multitude of information and ideals.”\

Commissioner Mallory Jones says he supports going to seven, a number that was considered when the consolidation effort was underway.

“The downside to me is when (city and county) were separate, we had 21 elected officials,” he said. “I think our city council was the second largest in the state. I think we’re better with nine elected officials. I think we’d be even better with seven.”