A policy change tying Blackshear council members’ pay to attendance was voted down 3-2 at the council’s monthly meeting, July 14.
The proposed policy change would have restructured city council pay where Blackshear’s elected officials receive more compensation for attending meetings and less for their monthly stipend.
The policy did not constitute a pay raise for council members and was weighted more heavily on meeting attendance than the current policy. The policy would also have required council members to announce their reason for absence at the next regular meeting if they missed a monthly meeting or work session.
Currently, city council members receive $200/month plus $50 for each regular meeting and $50 for each work session they attend. The proposed restructure would have reduced their monthly salary to $100 and increased their meeting attendance pay to $100 for each regular meeting and work session. Pay for special work sessions, special meetings and public hearings would have remained at $25.
City Attorney Adam Ferrell told The Times he saw no legal issue with the proposed policy. Any attempt to increase the pay of elected officials, however, has to follow a specific protocol.
In a voting pattern that’s occurred repeatedly this year, council members Charles Broady, Linda Gail Dennison and Shawn Godwin voted against the policy. Keith Brooks and Corey Lesseig voted for it. Timmy Sapp was absent from the meeting.
The proposed pay restructure was a direct outcome of a special committee hearing held Thursday, June 25, to review evidence presented by community members in connection with a citizen petition for the removal, resignation or recall election of Dennison, Godwin and Sapp. Citizens criticized council members for their poor meeting attendance at that hearing.
Mayor Kevin Grissom appointed Lesseig and Brooks to the special committee tasked with reviewing the petition. Lesseig served as chairman and presided over the hearing in June.
The policy presented earlier this month reads: “Whereas, citizens of the City of Blackshear have expressed public displeasure with the attendance record of certain council members; and whereas the mayor and city council recognize that attendance at meetings of the city council are essential to conduct the business of the City of Blackshear; and whereas the mayor and city council desire to amend the method of payment of salaries to council members contingent on meeting and work session attendance.”
“One of the things many people have complained about, rightfully so, is non-attendance. Our feet should be held to the fire and our pay should be dependent on the one action that we do,” Lesseig says. “You have to be present at meetings to vote on issues and hear citizen concerns.”
Councilman Brooks, also in favor of the policy change, hoped more pay for meeting attendance would incentivize council members to show up regularly.
“I was trying to give them some incentive to show up at the meetings, not miss meetings. If your attendance at the meeting is tied to more pay I thought they would be more likely to attend,” he says.
But, Broady, who voted against the policy, says behind the scenes work required for council members is worth their monthly salary remaining at $200, pointing out “it’s not a lot of money” for doing the job.
“If you’re reconstructing my pay in case I miss a day there, I done took four or five hours trying to find out what needs to be done, made phone calls to get the information. Even though I’m not at the meeting, I’ve done found all this stuff out to make the right decision,” Broady says.
“We’re only talking a few hundred dollars. I don’t think that’s the best solution,” Broady adds.
Dennison and Godwin did not return phone calls or emails from The Times for further comment. Dennison told The Times “I’m busy” before hanging up.
The Times reviewed council members’ attendance record for the first six months of the year in an article published in the June 24 edition. Brooks, Dennison and Lesseig had a perfect attendance record for January - June 2020. Godwin missed one meeting. Broady missed six meetings in the first six months of the year while Sapp attended the fewest meetings, missing a total of seven meetings.