During an often-tense, 90-minute meeting, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors narrowly voted to give Sheriff Eddie Hawkins a $10,000 raise. The board also deadlocked 2-2 on an appointment to the Columbus Lowndes Industrial Development Authority board.
Four of the supervisors were present, with District 3 Supervisor John Holliman out of town.
President Trip Hairston asked to give Hawkins a $10,000 supplement to his pay.
Sheriff’s pay is set by state statute, and depends on the population of the county in question. In Lowndes County, that salary is $90,000. However, a later addition to the same code section gives supervisors the authority to add an up to $10,000-per-year supplement.
Hairston, citing the greater-than-expected challenges that Hawkins has faced since coming into office, especially the pandemic and staffing problems at the jail, made a motion to give him the extra $10,000. District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders seconded.
“The main reason is for the increased burden on the department,” Hairston said.
“The management of that office has completely changed with COVID-19. I also think he’s doing an excellent job, and if we have the ability to raise his salary, I think we need to do that.”
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks made a substitute motion, seconded by District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith, to also give a $10,000 raise to Chief Financial Officer Lloyd Price, who currently makes $100,000.
“As we work to give some stability to the lower-range employees, we need to look at the management,” Brooks said. “(Price) is basically second-in-command when (County Administrator Jay Fisher) is not here, so the county doesn’t operate on cruise control. I think there’s a pay disparity.”
Fisher makes $130,000 yearly.
Brooks said he would not support giving Hawkins a raise unless Price got one, too.
The vote on Price’s raise failed 2-2, with Brooks and Smith voting yes and Hairston and Sanders voting no.
“We should do this at budget time,” Sanders said.
“We should do the sheriff at budget time,” Brooks shot back. “You can’t pick your friendship and kinship. You’re setting a precedent. If you don’t like the precedent, let’s wait until the next budget year.”
The board then returned to Hawkins’ raise. Hairston and Sanders voted yes, Brooks voted no and Smith abstained. Abstentions count with the majority, and so the motion passed.
“We’re doing this simply because (Hairston and Sanders) think it’s a good idea,” Brooks said.
When reached for comment this morning, Fisher clarified the timing of the proposal by explaining that when the county was going through the FY2022 budgeting process it was not aware of the 2019 amendment to state code which allowed for the sheriff’s $10,000 supplement. The county was made aware of that provision in October.
Deadlock on LCIDA
The board deadlocked between two candidates for the LCIDA board. Heather McGee, of McGee Building Group, and Albert Jethrow, a manager at 4-County, both applied for the spot previously held by Thomas Lee. The term is Nov. 1, 2021, through Oct. 31, 2025.
Brooks made a motion, seconded by Smith, to support Jethrow. Sanders immediately made a substitute motion, with a second from Hairston, to support McGee.
Brooks said he wanted to maintain a composition of the board that was “reflective of the community.”
“On a seven-member board, I’d like to see at least three African Americans,” he said. “We need to press forward and do things that are fair and equitable, or we’re regressing.”
Hairston touted McGee’s credentials, arguing that she would “without a doubt” make a good appointment.
“A lot of things look good on paper,” Brooks retorted. “Sometimes you have to look at the total picture in terms of people fitting in.”
“(Jethrow) lives in my district, and he’s a hard-working man,” Smith said. “I agree that the composition of that board needs to stay what it is.”
“The dynamics of this board you want to keep is strictly nothing but race,” Sanders said. “You’ve got one that has a master’s degree in engineering and the other has a high-school diploma. She’s also a female, and there are no females on that board.”
“I have to question your thinking, because I know your position about race,” Brooks said. “You probably need to recuse yourself.”
Brooks and Sanders began shouting at each other, and Hairston had to gavel repeatedly for order.
The vote on McGee’s appointment failed 2-2.
“We’re at a stalemate,” Hairston said. “We’ll take this up at the next meeting.”
“So you’re waiting until the other board member gets back so you can count three,” Brooks said. “Is that what we’re doing?”
Brooks and Sanders began shouting over each other again, and Brooks, who was sitting out in the audience area, got up and seemingly began to approach Sanders. Hawkins got up and walked toward Brooks, who shouted, “I’m talking. Are you coming to arrest me? You need to understand what your role is. You don’t need to come over here and press on me.”
Eventually calm was restored, and the appointment was delayed until the next meeting.