After an executive session at Tuesday evening's meeting, the Statesboro City Council unanimously voted to offer a contract to a new municipal court judge.
Keith Barber, currently acting as city solicitor, will take over the municipal court bench starting on March 1. He will replace former municipal Judge Lane Johnston who retired at the end of last year.
Barber said he is excited about starting his new role and said he credits previous judges with giving him the necessary knowledge to succeed as judge.
“I was the prosecutor for a little over five years, and I enjoy working in the courtroom,” Barber said. “Judge Johnston was a wonderful teacher and a wonderful man — I learned a lot from him. I feel confident that if I utilize all the things he taught me, I'll be very successful in the position.
“Judge Johnston and Judge (Sam) Brannen before him, Judge (William) Nevil — I know all of them. They are very fine men and I've learned a lot from them,” Barber said. “I've got some pretty big shoes to fill but I'm looking forward to getting started.”
As municipal court judge, Barber will preside over traffic cases of all sorts, minor drug and alcohol cases, violations of the city ordinances including alcohol and zoning, probation revocation hearings — essentially any non-felony charges that take place within the city.
Mayor Joe Brannen said he's looking forward to a good working relationship between the city and the new judge.
“Keith was working with the city and has been for a while as solicitor,” Brannen said. “Our experience there has been positive and he expressed an interest in that position, so we got together and positioned ourselves so he could start on March 1.”
Barber and the city have worked out contract details but both have yet to sign the contract, however it will likely be executed within the coming week.
The contract with Barber is for a period of three years and will pay the new judge $65,000 per year. His compensation package also includes health and dental coverage, life insurance equal to the annual salary, long-term disability benefits as well as a deferred compensation account.
Councilman Will Britt said this is a slight increase over Barber's salary as solicitor, but the role of judge will require a little more time commitment than the solicitor position. Britt added that the salary is in line with what other Georgia cities pay their municipal judges.
The council also voted to create a staff attorney position. According to the job description that will be put in the city's personnel manual, the staff attorney will be responsible for assisting the city manager, mayor, council and staff members with legal services and advice relating to litigation activities, contract and other legal issues that may arise.
The staff attorney will also act as the city's solicitor. By combining the solicitor with a staff attorney position, Britt said the move should reduce the amount the city spends on legal services. In addition, council and staff will have a full-time attorney available with which to consult.
No one has been named to the staff attorney position yet and it is still unclear how current Sam Brannen, who is retained by the city to act as city attorney, will fits into the new configuration. An announcement on both items should be made soon.