Community activist Ed Williams (left) makes his case to DeKalb Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams in a Jan. 10, 2019, trial regarding the Board of Commissioners’ surprise vote in February 2018 to raise their salaries. Williams argued the pay raise vote was illegal. TIA MITCHELL/TIA.MITCHELL@AJC.COM

Judge throws out lawsuit challenging DeKalb commissioners’ pay hike

A DeKalb County Superior Court judge has thrown out an activist’s attempt to reverse a controversial pay raise that county commissioners voted for themselves last year.

Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Adams ruled that Ed Williams waited too long to file a lawsuit accusing commissioners of violating open meeting laws when they approved a roughly 60-percent salary hike last February. The pay raise item was not on the agenda but commissioners approved it quietly and without debate, causing outrage among some DeKalb residents.

Williams filed a lawsuit in August that said the pay raises violated state and local laws, but Adams concluded that those claims had no teeth. He granted the county’s request to dismiss the case.

Jeff Rader, who serves as presiding officer, was named as a defendant along with the other six people serving on the Board of Commissioners at the time of the vote. So was DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, who received a three-percent pay increase but did not have a say in the matter.

Rader said he hopes Monday’s ruling ends all debate about the legality of the pay raises.

“The judge’s decision confirms the validity of our reliance on county counsel’s interpretation of the state salary statute, Open Meetings Act, Georgia Constitution and DeKalb County Organizational Act in this case,” Rader said. “We hope the decision puts the matter to rest.”

In addition to the lawsuit, Williams filed complaints to Attorney General Christopher Carr and the Decatur Police Department. Both Carr and DeKalb Solicitor-General Donna Coleman-Stribling said the February vote lacked transparency, but neither took any formal action.

The pay increases went into effect at the beginning of the year. Commissioners’ salaries increased from a base of $40,530 to $64,637 a year starting on Jan. 1.

Williams said Monday that he is weighing his options, such as submitting a motion asking Adams to reconsider his ruling or filing an appeal. He has acted as his own attorney throughout the case, including during a hearing two weeks ago in Adams’ courtroom.

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