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Guyton City Council member pushes for salary increase
State law forbids immediate pay hike
Johnson and Smith
Michael Johnson (left), the Post 4 member of the Guyton City Council, listens Tuesday as City Attorney Ray Smith cites state law regarding salary increases. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

GUYTON — Michael Johnson, the Post 4 representative on the Guyton City Council, is determined to get a pay raise. He has been seeking one for more than two years.

Johnson spent considerable time discussing the issue during Tuesday’s regularly scheduled council meeting. His remarks prompted City Attorney Ray Smith to pull out a copy of the Official Code of Georgia from his briefcase.

“Georgia law provides that a public official may never increase his or her salary during their term,” Smith said. “Where public officials vote to increase a salary, the increase is staggered just as their terms are. Resultingly, council members who voted on this thing back in April whose term would be over at the end of this year have voted an increase that begins January 1 of next year for whoever may fill that term — whether it be you or someone else.”

Johnson doesn’t want to wait. 

“I don’t see where it would be fair that I have to wait for another 2 1/2 years (compared to) somebody to come in one month and get ‘xyz’ dollars and not (have been here ...”

According to the minutes of a council meeting on April 10, 2018, Johnson proposed to have council members get pay raises after reaching a prescribed number of training hours. A lengthy discussion ensued and it featured Smith saying he had never seen a council that allowed different wages for its members. He added that any salary increase would affect each council member the same.

It was also brought up that time that the code stipulates that a salary increase would not take effect until after each post’s next election, which would temporarily stagger council members’ salaries.

“That’s been the law probably longer than I’ve been practicing law,” Smith said Tuesday. “It’s been there a long time. It’s so that you can’t increase your own salary.

“You can increase it but you always run the risk that you won’t be reelected.”

During a May 8, 2018, council meeting, Johnson, according to the minutes, stated that he initially requested a pay raise in February 2017 prior to election qualifying. He made a motion to boost the mayor and council members’ pay by $100 and it received approval.

On June 12, 2018, Mayor Jeff Lariscy clarified for the council that each member wouldn’t receive the pay increase unless they won re-election. A motion to set the mayor’s salary at $400 per month and the council members’ salary at $300 per month was OK’d.

Johnson, who disputed approved minutes of previous meetings, contended Tuesday that a 2010 council pay raise wasn’t staggered. Smith said he was unaware of that because he was not the city attorney at the time.

“If there was a vote for that in 2010, why wouldn’t be the same vote in 2019?” Johnson asked.

The state law in question is OCGA Section 36-35-4. It originated in 1965 and has been amended several times, the occurrence being in 1987.

“If (not staggering a salary increase) happened previously, that doesn’t mean we should do it now,” Lariscy said. “We are aware that the law is the law, and we need to abide by it.”