Despite some public opposition, a 22 percent pay raise for Forsyth County’s manager was finalized during a meeting Thursday night.
Most opponents agreed the increase may likely have been merited, but took issue with the timing and its size, as well as the fact it went to just one employee.
In the end, county commissioners voted 5-0 to bump Doug Derrer's salary to $158,757 from $130,000.
Derrer, who lives in neighboring Hall County, also will receive a more generous yearly auto allowance of $7,211, up from $6,000.
Prior to the vote, county worker Theresa Goss addressed the commission on behalf of what she said were about 1,100 “extremely disappointed” employees.
As most employees tighten up and make sacrifices, Goss said, the staff has watched one receive a large increase.
“Why is that hundreds of Forsyth County employees who have served this county loyally were bypassed when there was a possibility of funds available for raises, and the board decided not to consider this?” she said.
“That money could have been spent to improve the economy in Forsyth County, and improve the morale of every Forsyth County employee.”
Goss works as an administrative specialist in the State Court Solicitor’s Office, according to county records. She was hired in January 2002.
Her remarks on Thursday elicited loud applause from a crowd in the back of the commissioner’s room.
Noting the county had three different managers between fall 2004 and '08, Commission Chairman Brian Tam said the stability Derrer has brought to the county manager position was one reason for the pay hike.
“In the past two years, we have had one [manager],” he said. “It was time for us to keep our commitment to Mr. Derrer and support stability in our government.”
When Derrer was promoted to county manager in 2009, his contract stipulated the county would undertake a wage and salary survey in one year, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said. Performance and pay were to be assessed.
However, Derrer and the commissioners agreed to postpone the study due to the economic conditions, Jarrard said.
With the contract set to expire March 31, Jarrard said the county reviewed Derrer’s employment and determined performance was excellent.
“Since that was the result,” Jarrard said, “I think it carried with it an obligation on the county to take a look and conduct this survey so these very issues could be discussed.”
The pay increase will come from the county’s administrative department 2011 budget.
In response to a Forsyth County News query seeking comment, Derrer said in an e-mail Friday that, “Though the increase is not a county pay raise in the technical sense, such as a merit or cost of living increase, it is an increase in total compensation and subject to heightened discourse during these difficult economic times.”
Thursday night, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Silveus agreed that Derrer deserves the promised raise, but said county workers should not be treated differently in a budget crunch.
“I think you should reconsider until you can fulfill everybody’s contracts — written or not — to restore all the paid benefits for all the county employees,” Silveus said.
To help balance budgets in recent years, county workers have taken unpaid holidays and reductions in benefits.
According to Silveus, more than 85 sheriff’s office employees have left to work elsewhere since 2008.
Resident Jeanne Latiolais, a member of the Forsyth County Tea Party, expressed concern about unnecessary government spending.
“I certainly do not oppose anyone getting a raise, especially when they’ve done a good job,” Latiolais told commissioners. “[But] 22 percent in a recession seems like an awful lot.”
She added that it seems “unfair” for the county manager to take the substantial pay increase, while other employees have had raises frozen for several years.
Unlike others, resident Kim Pruitt applauded Derrer for his work as manager.
“He has continued to raise our government to the level it is now,” Pruitt said during the public comments portion of the Thursday meeting.
“We have been able to avoid furloughs to the point we could not do that anymore.”
Since Derrer bypassed the potential salary adjustment in 2010 for the county’s benefit and has chosen to take it now, Pruitt hoped it was a sign that the county’s economic conditions are improving.
The survey, which was conducted this year, compared Derrer’s pay and benefits to county managers in nine other governments of similar size.
The county arrived on his pay raise by taking the average of the salaries, which ranged from $115,000 in Henry County to $273,000 in Cobb County.
All of those surveyed provided an auto allowance to their manager higher than that of Forsyth, except Henry, which was the same, at the previous $6,000.
Other jurisdictions in the survey included the counties of Cherokee, Gwinnett and Hall, and the cities of Gainesville, Milton, Roswell and Smyrna.
Commissioner Todd Levent noted previous county managers have cost Forsyth about $377,000 in severance pay.
Derrer’s contract was up at the end of March, Levent said, which is why the topic came up at this time.
Pay and benefits for other employees, he said, will be discussed as the county prepares its 2012 budget.
In his e-mail, Derrer noted that 56 filled positions have been cut since 2008 and the county has also eliminated many vacant positions.
“While there have not been across-the-board salary increases for county employees in recent years, some employee salary adjustments have been made based on promotions, certifications, reclassifications, reorganization and emergency assignments,” he wrote.
“From January 2008 to March 2011, 189 county employees received salary increases based on these factors.”
Looking to 2012, Derrer noted that restoring employee benefits depends on a variety of factors, over which the county doesn’t always have control.
“However, my office and the board of commissioners are committed to evaluating the possibility of restoring as many benefits as feasibly possible,” he wrote.