Divided Henry Commission puts kibosh on 10% employee raises

A deeply divided Henry Commission earlier this week voted down 10.5% across-the-board raises for the south metro government’s employees, despite the county manager’s concerns that workers will flee the community for more competitive salaries.

The commission deadlocked 3-3 on the proposal, defeating it after more than an hour of debate Tuesday that at times was heated and had leaders talking over one another.

“I have the floor, I have the floor,” Commissioner Johnny Wilson said as he and Commissioner Vivian Thomas sparred over whether their should have been more discussion over the proposal before it was added to the agenda. “Can somebody mute her please.”

Wilson said county leaders had wanted to talk about the pay hike at meetings in November, but they had to be cancelled for lack of a quorum when Thomas and Commissioners Bruce Holmes and Dee Clemmons did not show up.

Thomas pushed back against the allegation, saying that said she does show up for meetings and that she does her job well.

The discussion comes as municipalities across metro Atlanta are discussing increasing pay as they struggle to fill jobs, especially in public safety. The problem has been exacerbated by the creation of news cities, which are creating more jobs that make it easier for workers to seek better pay.

County Manager Cheri Hobson-Matthews said she proposed the pay hike to retain Henry workers who are being lured by signing bonuses and other perks.

The $6.6 million cost would come from the county’s general fund and would not require a tax increase. Henry has about 200 vacancies that could be filled if salaries were more competitive, Matthews said.

“It’s hard recruiting when your salaries are not at a level that we can compete with,” she told the board.

But Commissioner Holmes, who voted against the pay increase, said he worried the county would be put in a bind if the economy were to flatline and Henry has spent millions on salaries.

“This seems a little irresponsible to me,” Holmes said.

The commission also turned down a proposal to give employees who had been vaccinated against COVID-19 $1,000. Holmes, Thomas and Clemmons voted to give all employees $1,000, but Commission Chairwoman Carlotta Harrell said the money should be given to those who received the shots as an incentive. Harrell’s proposal also was defeated.

“This board is recognized as dysfunctional,” said Commissioner Greg Cannon, who voted for the pay hike but against the COVID-19 incentive pay. “I’m afraid we are proving that today.”