The City of Statesboro drew fire last fall after it came to light that dozens of police officers were promoted to higher positions over the course of their careers without receiving the appropriate pay raise. Council members said the issue would be reviewed, but it appears the clock has nearly run out on the opportunity to rectify the problem.
AllOnGeorgia previously reported, following a series of open records requests, that former Public Safety Director Wendell Turner and HR Director Jeff Grant both acknowledged in emails that they were unsure why the patrol officers were not given their appropriate raises.
Elected officials and employees within the City of Statesboro said that the compensation plan would address the concerns of the of back pay, which dated back to 2010,…However, after review of the pay compensation study recently implemented, it appears that there is no line item for the lump sum owed to officers in the department. While every employee in the Statesboro Police Department saw an increase because of the study, nothing was done related to the previous problem of the four years patrol officers were not adequately or appropriately compensated.
Councilman Phil Boyum was especially vocal on the issue, claiming that no merit-based pay raises were granted during the pay freeze. Open records requests, however, show otherwise. Pay raises were granted in at least three different departments – including IT, roads, and mechanics- during the same time period. Then-Councilman Will Britt commented on social media that if there was an issue, the council would work to rectify it as quickly as possible. City Attorney Alvin Leaphart has maintained that the city has not done anything wrong.
In January, three legal opinions were presented to council members and Mayor Jan Moore at a regularly-scheduled council meeting. After reviewing the open records documents, the City of Statesboro employee manual, and other pertinent documentation, they each had the following to say about the backpay issue:
Judge Robert Stokely – “It would appear that it is clearly identified the pay freeze should not affect the city council enacted pay step. If the pay step chart is enacted by the proper council authority and signed by the mayor, then that is what the city manager and HR have to go by.”
Lawyer and State Senator Josh McKoon – “There is nothing to prevent a claim by the officers from being made. The SOP’s of the Police Department clearly articulate the promotion policy for SPD. Read in conjunction with the pay scale, and absent a declaration to the contrary, I would argue this creates an implied, if not express, contract between the City of Statesboro and the officers in questions to be paid according to the pay scale and their rank in the SPD. Given the other pay changes approved by the City Council from 2009-2014, it it simply not accurate that they were under a pay freeze.”
Atlanta attorney Alex Johnson – After noting that the refusal to pay officers backpay could be a violation subject to legal action by the Department of Labor, “I sincerely hope hat you will closely evaluate your position, consult a competent legal counsel, and compensate your police officers for all pay that they are entitled to based on your written policy. If you do not, the officers could seek counsel to pursue recovery against your city for their backpay. In my opinion, such an action would likely be successful.”
A local attorney in Bulloch County, who asked not to be named, previously told AllOnGeorgia that the statute of limitations for a matter like this is two years, meaning officers could not file a lawsuit against the city for backpay after June 1, 2016. After that date, the city will be free and clear of the $20,000+ owed to officers and former officers.
City of Statesboro HR Director Jeff Grant refused to respond to multiple requests over the last six months by AllOnGeorgia for an update or comment on the situation. Mayor Jan Moore also could not be reached for comment.