NewtonBOC.jpg

COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Commissioners has asked that a judge decide who is right in a dispute over how certain county officials’ pay is calculated. The county has filed a complaint for declaratory relief against Chairman Marcello Banes and Probate Court Judge Melanie Bell in Newton County Superior Court. Attorney Erik O’Brien, with the law firm Buckley Christopher in Atlanta, will represent the county. The county is seeking a ruling on whether or not compensation for the constitutional officers and the chairman of the Board of Commissioners has been incorrectly calculated since 1994. Banes and Bell brought a demand for payment for “salary deficiencies” to the commissioners in September. Each claims that they have been underpaid since taking office four years ago and that each is owed a minimum of $180,000. The salary issue came to light after commissioners agreed this summer to give Banes the same percentage pay increase given to other county employees. However, County Attorney Megan Martin advised commissioners that the chairman’s pay is governed by statute, and his compensation cannot be changed in the same manner as a county employee’s.

COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Commissioners has asked that a judge decide who is right in a dispute over how certain county officials’ pay is calculated.

The county has filed a complaint for declaratory relief against Chairman Marcello Banes and Probate Court Judge Melanie Bell in Newton County Superior Court. Attorney Erik O’Brien, with the law firm Buckley Christopher in Atlanta, will represent the county.

The county is seeking a ruling on whether or not compensation for the constitutional officers and the chairman of the Board of Commissioners has been incorrectly calculated since 1994. Banes and Bell brought a demand for payment for “salary deficiencies” to the commissioners in September. Each claims that they have been underpaid since taking office four years ago and that each is owed a minimum of $180,000.

The salary issue came to light after commissioners agreed this summer to give Banes the same percentage pay increase given to other county employees. However, County Attorney Megan Martin advised commissioners that the chairman’s pay is governed by statute, and his compensation cannot be changed in the same manner as a county employee’s.

Attorney Stephanie Lindsey, who represents Banes and Bell, delved into the compensation issue and came up with a calculation different from the county’s based on changes in the compensation legislation over the years. Lindsey asserts that Banes’ annual pay should have been $144,733 when he first took office in 2017, increasing to $148,519 in 2020, and that Bell’s compensation should have been $144,733 in 2017, increasing to $148,519 in 2020. Instead, according to Lindsey, Banes was paid $99,023 in 2017, which increased to $101,003 in 2020; Bell was paid $99,023 in 2017, which increased to $103,023 in 2020.

Lindsey told commissioners at a work session in September that failing to pay the back wages is a willful violation of law.

Newton County Attorney Megan Martin told commissioners that she has submitted clarifying legislation to the local delegation for the past five years. However, the bill was never passed. In the last session of the General Assembly, the bill, HB 1170, passed out of the House but was tabled in the Senate by Sen. Brian Strickland, apparently because he mistakenly believed it contained a pay increase for county officials. Other legislators have also said they didn’t fully understand the bill.

The county is working to craft a new bill clarifying the compensation issue that officials hope to get passed in the near future — either in a special session this year, if one is called by the governor, or in the next session of the General Assembly in early 2021. A work session to discuss the new legislation is set for Tuesday, Oct. 20, 6 p.m., at the Historic Courthouse.

Support Local Journalism

Now, more than ever, the world needs trustworthy reporting—but good journalism isn’t free. Please support us by subscribing or making a contribution today.

Editor

I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please log in, or sign up for a new, free account to read or post comments.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.