COVINGTON — Legislation governing the way compensation is calculated for Newton County’s constitutional officers and Board of Commissioners chairman is expected to be the topic of a work session Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 6 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse.
Commissioners are working to craft legislation that will clarify how local officials’ pay is computed after Chairman Marcello Banes and Probate Court Judge Melanie Bell last month challenged the way their pay has been calculated for the past four years. Each claims they are owed about $180,000.
The dispute over back pay may ultimately have to be resolved in court. County Manager Lloyd Kerr said the county is currently looking at all its options. In the meantime, however, the county plans to work out the language in a new bill 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.
Kerr noted that Newton and Walton counties have operated under the same legislation that governs pay calculations for the past 26 years. Walton interprets the legislation in the same manner as Newton and calculates its compensation for constitutional officers in the same manner as Newton County, he said.
Newton County Attorney Megan Martin told commissioners last week 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.
Sen. Strickland said last week he sees a simple solution to the dispute.
“The solution to me is for the county commission to continue operating under the old interpretation of the law until we can fix it in January,” Strickland said, adding, “I would hope that those involved would not capitalize on this and not ask for it to be recalculated just to get a higher salary.”