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South Georgia Local Government

Effingham County Stalling on Releasing Compensation Study 

Effingham County is stalling on releasing a compensation study brokered two years ago, despite the implementation of the study’s recommendation. 

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The refusal to release the plan and analysis, after the county implemented the plan without discussing it in an open meeting, suggests there is much more to the findings by the third party than the public knows. 

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The study garnered attention in the course of research on another matter. While examining meeting minutes related to the adoption of the FY 2022 budget (July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022) commission meeting minutes revealed that county commissioners did not discuss or vote upon the findings provided by the vendor, Evergreen Solutions, LLC, after paying $18,500 for the study.

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The meeting minutes show that in November 2020, elected officials commissioned the study to analyze employee pay and classification. An RFP was published and bids were submitted. Evergreen Solutions was the low bidder. 

The hope was for the report to be provided by budget drafting time (March 2021), but minutes show it was not available under the first draft. Minutes from the commission retreat in January similarly showed that the findings were not available and, in drafting the budget for the next year, a line item would be left to account for the change in salaries until a final number could be inserted. 

The first reading of the budget did not include a concrete amount to be allocated to adjust employee pay, but the second reading and budget that commissioners voted to adopt did include a number to coincide with the report from Evergreen. What’s in that report, however, remains to be seen. 

Commissioners subsequently adopted the budget to account for changes to employee salaries based on the recommendations of a third party without discussing or analyzing those findings themselves. At least not in a public meeting. Even since the adoption of the budget in spring 2021, the commissioners have not discussed the findings of the study — which cost taxpayers $18,500 to conduct. 

In the interim, county employees have been subjected to confusion over pay and pay compression issues due to unequal and imbalanced compensation. (Ex: Newer employees with less experience in a field are earning more than seasoned employees) 

As a result, The Georgia Virtue filed an Open Records Request with the county seeking:

  • the complete compensation and classification study, 
  • the pay classification scale from both before and after the study’s adoption,
    • A classification scale does not detail individual information, but merely the hourly or annual schedule for a position type
  • any minutes which detail the adoption of the study by the Commissioners prior to implementation.
    •  A clarification was noted in the request that the minutes detailing the commissioner’s agreement to enter into a contract with Evergreen Solutions are not necessary due to the fact that those are already available online. All meeting minutes were reviewed prior to making a request, but this item was included to cross check and ensure something was not inadvertently missed. 

March 10, 2022 – An open records request was sent via email to county clerk Stephanie Johnson. 

Johnson replied and stated that the request must be filed through the county’s portal.

OCGA 50-18-71(b)(2) under the Georgia Open Records act states the county must accept requests via email in addition to any other methods of acceptance, but nevertheless, the request was submitted through the portal. 

March 14, 2022 – The county missed the deadline to be in compliance with the request under the Georgia statute. OCGA (b)(1)(A) requires a response time of 3 business days. In the event that the request cannot be filled in that time period, the governing body is supposed to provide a cost estimate and an expected date of completion. This was not done. 

March 15, 2022 – An email was sent to the county clerk explaining the missed deadline and asking for an update. 

Mrs. Johnson replied to the email and says the files have been uploaded to the portal. She then closes the request and marks it complete.

A review of the portal shows three files: 

  • a partial contract for the compensation plan with Evergreen Solutions. The contract references addendums and tasks to be completed by the company, which are not included in the request. 
    • This item was not requested in the initial request 
  • the meeting minutes from the November 2020 meeting
    • Specifically, these were the minutes that were asked to be omitted from the request 
  • An undated, unnamed classification scale which does not indicate whether it is the scale from before the pay study, after the study, or if the scale has remained the same (which would not be possible if a pay study was implemented) 

Subsequently, on the same day, another email was sent to the county clerk, explaining that the documents were not correct and the request should not be considered closed. The items needed were restated based on the language from the original request. 

March 16, 2022 – The county clerk replied, copying the deputy clerk and the county HR director for ‘situational awareness and response.’ She stated they would ‘review the additional details related to the petition.’

The county’s response, or lack thereof, would not be as concerning had the study itself not been shielded by an apparent veil of secrecy for the last fifteen months. Evergreen Solutions is a well-known entity used for compensation studies and representatives routinely present the entire study and recommendations to the respective elected officials once complete. That was not done in Effingham County. 

Did commissioners review the study individually and simply not discuss it before voting on it? If so, why?

Or did they accept an adjustment on salaries at the recommendation of the county manager without reviewing the details themselves?

Or, worse, did commissioners discuss the study and the analysis behind closed doors?

Pay studies are implemented in phases to ensure errors and pay suppression are not overlooked. Is the plan to continue to implement some or all of the study recommendations without ever discussing it publicly? If so, why? 

Pay studies are provided to counties in a simple PDF file. Redaction is not necessary as they don’t contain personal information. Why is there any delay at all, particularly now given that three county employees are involved in fulfilling the request? 

Jessica Szilagyi
Written By

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of The Georgia Virtue. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta, a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast,' and she has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers." Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Rudy Villarreal

    March 17, 2022 at 7:20 am

    I too am interested as to why so much secret is involved in any county transactions.

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