A request to implement the findings of a pay study at the Fayette County Water System was met with fierce resistance from Steve Brown at Thursday’s County Board of Commissioners meeting.
The classification and compensation study by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia was the extension of previous work done with the Water System, first on the water production area in March 2014 and on the rest of its employees in May 2017. Implementing recommended changes from the study, to include reclassification of the Assistant Distribution Manager, three billing representatives, and one water distribution maintenance work, along with the creation of a career path for distribution and maintenance employees, would carry a price tag of roughly $16,000 if implemented.
Brown questioned the updated study results, saying changes to the process were not approved by the commissioners. He was also upset that he only found out about the new study through a third party, claiming he was not told by county staff or any fellow commissioner. He maintained that the decision to change the comparative jurisdictions for the pay study should have been brought up for discussion, as he had known problems with the cities chosen.
“We didn’t vote. We didn’t ask anybody to do this,” he said. “My main concern is you never got permission from the Board to go back and do this in the first place. We had a report, we had a discussion on it, it was voted on, and it went through.
“I’m peeved. I want to see where we voted to go back and redo the water department,” he said. “I’m tired of projects getting stalled, getting stopped, getting altered without the Board’s permission. When the Board votes on it, it’s official. If you want to change an official action, you come back to the Board of Commissioners.”
While the initial list as voted on by the Board considered local municipalities, several did not have comparable water systems. Instead, the updated study plugged in comparable locations from a 2016 national survey. Brown disagreed with that approach.
“I don’t know why you didn’t use comparable water systems in Georgia,” he said, citing the potential for cities in other states to have a drastically different cost of living or regulation that would skew the results.
Brown chided staff for making decisions without explicit direction from the Board, citing a unanimously-approved renovation project at the animal shelter that was stopped without authorization.
“That’s not how we do business, that’s not the way business should be done, that’s not accountable, that’s not proper, and we shouldn’t do business that way,” he said. “From a staff perspective, I get really worried when we’re working without all this authority.
“That’s circumventing the people that were elected by the citizens to look out for their best interests. It’s their money.”
He vented his frustration over not being involved in the process despite making his complaints known, and he made his stand on the future of the study clear.
“I’d like to see a reevaluation. I’d like to see you use water systems of comparable size in the state of Georgia using the same amount of customers, same population, and the same cost of living,” he said, adding, “I’d like to see you contact the people who are paying you to do your job.”
Commissioner Charles Oddo’s blood was boiling. He was incensed that an issue that had been lingering for some time was only brought out in the public forum.
“What really irritates me is that there was time to discuss this before tonight,” he said. “If there was such an issue, to be raising holy hell tonight makes this county look terrible again, and it is totally unnecessary. We could’ve had the discussion.
“This is an issue that I’ve had with this Board for many, many years now is we get to this dais here and make this gigantic public statement and make everybody look bad when this could have been handled quietly.”
Commissioner Charles Rousseau agreed with Oddo on timing concerns, but also had a caution.
“The danger with that is we’re not conducting business in the public eye, and that’s critically important,” he said. “Your point is critically important too. We have ample time to ask questions and get a better understanding.”
County Administrator Steve Rapson defended staff and the Carl Vinson Institute, saying the changes to the study where well within contractual parameters and did not warrant a new vote.
“In essence, the Board authorized this report and all we’re doing is the due diligence to get to the final component for an issue that the Board has raised, and that’s the water department. I think we’ve done that,” he said, noting that he had emails dating back to at least October 2017 updating commissioners, and he had sent out the updated version 30 days ago for review. “To say that staff’s out here going rogue is a very unfair statement.”
Rousseau pushed to table the item to allow time to consider if it followed proper procedure, stayed with contractual parameters, and if it required an additional vote from the BOC.
“Does an email giving an update on what has transpired constitute authority to move forward?,” he asked. “That seems to be the essential question here.”
Commissioners will get another look at the study at their July 26 meeting.