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Mayor vetoes retirement pay hike for elected officials
Moore: No justification for increase
WEB MOORE Jan 073109
Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore

Exercising a rarely used power provided in the Statesboro City Charter, Mayor Jan Moore issued a veto Friday of an ordinance change increasing retirement pay for the mayor and City Council members.

“The approval of this increase in retirement pay for elected officials is demonstrative of elected officials placing their personal financial interests above the public interest and the interests of the employees of the City of Statesboro,” Moore gave as the last of three reasons in her written explanation.

She attached the two-page explanation to a copy of the 35-page revised ordinance, with “VETO” written in the space for the mayor’s signature, and delivered it Friday morning to City Clerk Sue Starling.

The retirement raise was adopted, as part of Ordinance 2015-13, by a three-vote majority of the council Tuesday. Councilman Will Britt made the motion, Councilman Gary Lewis seconded it, and Councilman Travis Chance also voted for it. Councilman Phil Boyum abstained, and Councilman John Riggs voted “no.”

That Britt and Lewis did not seek re-election, and that their terms end Dec. 31, figure in the second reason Moore cited for the veto.

But first, she asserted that there was no real justification for the retirement increase.

“Based on the information provided to the Mayor and City Council, the current retirement benefit provided to elected officials is commensurate with the retirement benefit provided for other elected local government officials in the state of Georgia,” Moore stated in her veto explanation.

At the City Council meeting Nov. 3, Human Resources Director Jeff Grant said that the average monthly council retirement benefit among Georgia Municipal Association cities is about $25 per year served.

Until this week, Statesboro’s full monthly benefit for former mayors and council members was set at $35 per year of service. They eligible to begin receiving the full benefit at age 65, or a reduced amount from age 55. Tuesday’s vote would make the benefit $45 per year of service for council members and mayors retiring in the future, beginning with Lewis, who is already 65.

Because Lewis has served 17 years on the council, the raise would have made his retirement pay $765 a month or $9,180 a year. His pay as an active council member is $7,575 a year.

 

Unrelated indictment

A federal grand jury returned an indictment Thursday charging Lewis with attempted extortion in an unrelated matter, a once-proposed ordinance that would have allowed drive-thru sales of alcoholic beverages.

Along with her response Thursday to news of the indictment, Moore had said she would veto the retirement pay increase. At that time she referred to it has having been voted on by “lame duck members.”

Her veto notice Friday did not mention the indictment.

But the second reason Moore asserted was that the motion and second were “made by elected officials who had chosen not to run again for office at the last meeting at which those two elected officials would be serving as elected officials. As such, the majority of elected officials who approved this ordinance are unaccountable to the taxpayers for this decision.”

 

Limited veto power

Starling, city clerk since 2009, said this is the first time she recalls processing a veto. Notably, a veto can only succeed when an ordinance passes with no more than three votes or when council members change their minds.

Section 4-19c of the charter gives the mayor 10 days to approve or disapprove any ordinance passed by the council, with the exception of zoning ordinances. If not returned to the council, the ordinance becomes law on the 10th day with or without the mayor’s approval. If the mayor disapproves, a written statement of reasons is required.

Overriding a veto requires a four-member council vote at the next meeting.

Tuesday’s meeting was the last scheduled for 2015. The next regular meeting will be at 9 a.m. Jan. 5, when District 2 member-elect Sam Jones and District 3 member-elect Jeff Yawn are slated to begin service, replacing Lewis and Britt, respectively.

A special meeting could be called before Jan. 1, but an override by the current council appears impossible, with Boyum and Chance now declaring support for the veto.

Boyum said he had expected more discussion and abstained when the motion came sooner than he expected and caught him off guard.

“Had I realized, though, the extent of what Councilmen Lewis and Britt were trying to do and making it effective for Gary as soon as he left office, I would have voted no,” Boyum said Friday. “So I’m happy that the mayor is vetoing the measure and really I’m sorry I didn’t see the extent of it sooner and should have voted no the first time around.”

When called Thursday afternoon about Lewis’ indictment, Chance had talked about his vote for the retirement pay increase. He said he might have voted differently had he understood all the implications.

Friday, Chance supplied the newspaper a copy of an email, which he had sent Moore later Thursday night, expressing support for a veto. In the email, he said he had been “floored” to learn of the grand jury’s charge against Lewis.

“While he is innocent until proven guilty, I think the timing of the vote on retirement benefits and its potential future ramifications are too unclear for it to be allowed to stand,” Chance wrote the mayor.

“In summary, the vote to raise all elected officials’ retirement benefits has weighed on me heavily. In light of today's news and events coming to light, I feel very strongly in asking you to consider an administrative veto,” Chance concluded.

Several hours earlier, in a statement to the newspaper, Moore had announced her intention to veto the retirement raise. Friday, she referenced an email she received from City Attorney Alvin Leaphart at 3:06 p.m. Wednesday as proof that she was working on the veto before Lewis was indicted the next day. At Moore’s request, Leaphart had provided partial formats for a veto.

“It has been my intent to veto this from the time of its passage,” Moore said Friday. “In fact, I asked attorney Leaphart to give me the criteria for vetoing it, the process, on Wednesday, and my intent was to deliver the veto next week, but with the indictment of Councilman Lewis, I felt it was in the community’s best interest to go ahead and get it done today.”

Britt, called early Friday afternoon, said he had not seen the veto document and was not prepared to comment on it until he did.

Lewis, reached by phone later in the afternoon, said, “She can do what she wants to do.”

He said he had been advised to be quiet regarding the indictment and declined to identify an attorney who might speak on his behalf.

Riggs said he supports the veto and noted that he opposed the retirement increase “from the beginning.” He expressed his opposition in the meetings Nov. 3 and Tuesday.

The veto also strikes down a change in the way regular city employees get credit toward retirement for their best-paid years. This unrelated change was included in the same ordinance and will be brought back Jan. 5 for a separate vote, Moore said.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

 

 

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