Gwinnett proposes almost doubling chairwoman’s salary

County commission chair Nicole Love Hendrickson talks at a Fireside chat at the Crowne Plaza at Ravinia in Atlanta.  STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION AJC FILE PHOTO

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

County commission chair Nicole Love Hendrickson talks at a Fireside chat at the Crowne Plaza at Ravinia in Atlanta. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION AJC FILE PHOTO

Gwinnett County commissioners want to nearly double the pay of the newly elected chairwoman. Though they could make the change themselves, commissioners will vote Tuesday on legislation that would ask the county’s delegation of state lawmakers to do so instead.

Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson currently makes $74,266.06 a year, with an additional $1,200 available for training. Commissioners are proposing Hendrickson’s salary be raised to more than $136,000, though the exact dollar figure was not clear Monday.

Publicly available documents don’t have the proposed salary information, but say the chairwoman’s pay should be “commensurate with the salaries of members of the governing authorities of similarly situated counties and with the salaries of local constitutional officers.”

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond makes $174,053 annually, while Cobb County chairwoman Lisa Cupid’s salary is $140,631. Fulton County is the outlier, where part-time Chairman Robb Pitts makes $50,735 a year.

Draft legislation would make the Gwinnett chairwoman’s salary equal to the sheriff’s, which is tied to population and increases as the population grows, based on a state formula.

Gwinnett Sheriff Keybo Taylor makes $143,455.

Gwinnett Commissioner Ben Ku said Hendrickson is “severely underpaid,” and that she took a pay cut when she quit her county job to run for commission chairwoman. He called that “appalling.”

“That shouldn’t be controversial,” Ku said.

Hendrickson was not available for comment. Commissioners Jasper Watkins and Marlene Fosque also did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Both Ku and Commissioner Kirkland Carden said they hoped the legislature would pass the raise so it would take effect more quickly. If the county commission passes it, the additional salary would begin after the November 2022 elections. Lawmakers could set the effective date if they approve the raise.

Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville and chair of the Gwinnett County delegation, said legislators would back the proposal. He said Hendrickson’s salary was disparately low.

Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, also said Hendrickson’s salary sounded low for a county with nearly 1 million people and a $1.91 billion budget.

The former Gwinnett chairman, Charlotte Nash, said in an email that the county government is a complex organization and that the job brings with it long hours and major responsibilities.

“There is no doubt that the responsibility and demands placed on the Gwinnett Commission Chair warrant better compensation than has been assigned to it over the last few decades,” she said.

Nash rejected a raise in 2016 because she was collecting a county pension. At the time, she was making $58,342 a year.

Carden said he also saw a raise as an anti-corruption measure and as an incentive to get better elected officials.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t offer our chair a competitive salary,” he said. “You’re going to see a difference in the caliber, the pool of candidates. It shouldn’t just be retirees and wealthy people.”

Brenda Lopez, chair of the county’s Democratic party, said she was in favor of the increase. So did Edward Muldrow, who leads the Gwinnett Republican party.

“If there’s going to be a position that’s competitive, with quality candidates, you’re going to have to do something about that,” he said of the current salary. “You have to make people want to pursue that.

“Taking a pay cut to take that job — they have to do something about that.”

Staff writers Ben Brasch, Kristal Dixon, Tyler Estep and Leon Stafford contributed to this story.

A Gwinnett County proposal to raise commission chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson’s salary says it should be comparable her peers, and the county’s other constitutional officers. Here’s a look at those salaries:

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond: $174,053.17

Cobb County Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid: $140,631.35

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson: $74,266.06

Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts: $50,735

Gwinnett Sheriff Keybo Taylor: $143,455

Gwinnett Clerk of Court Tiana Garner: $179,680

Gwinnett Probate Court judges: $146,417

Gwinnett Tax Commissioner Tiffany Porter: $141,098