Georgia ethics commission gives its chief $16,000 raise

While thousands of teachers and state employees will be getting 3 percent raises July 1, the state ethics commission voted Thursday to boost the pay of its chief executive by 10 percent.

Stefan Ritter, the executive secretary of the ethics agency, formally known as the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, will see his salary jump from $165,000 to $181,500.

R. Lawton Jordan, the panel’s chairman, said Ritter is “probably the most experienced executive secretary this commission has ever had.” He said Ritter, a former senior assistant attorney general, has brought credibility to the commission after years of problems.

Of the 10 percent raise, Jordan said, “I think it is well justified.”

Ritter was paid $106,000 at the Attorney General's Office in 2014. The ethics commission hired him at $165,000 in April 2015. His predecessor at the commission, Holly LaBerge, was not a lawyer and was making $100,000 before she was fired in September 2014 following a judge's ruling that she had been "dishonest and nontransparent" over the course of a whistleblower lawsuit filed by her predecessor.

Ritter has whittled down a backlog of cases the commission piled up under LaBerge and has worked to produce new rules and regulations for candidates and lobbyists. Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly rewarded the commission by more than doubling its budget the past few years.

Ritter said Tuesday that he has also been handing out sizable raises to staffers: Some will have received 14 percent increases over the past two budget years, he said.

While the commission has been lauded for improvements under Ritter, his pay raise rankled some because it is far more than many teachers and state employees are receiving.

Deal proposed a 3 percent increase in salary for state agencies and teachers in January after several years of little or no raises. Lawmakers went along with his proposal, adding money to provide bigger raises for select employees, such as public health nurses, in areas where the state is seeing massive turnover.

School districts were given 3 percent increases for personnel, and most were expected to pass along the money in the form of raises. But Deal and state lawmakers left that decision up to local school boards, and not all are giving 3 percent raises. Some are giving bonuses rather than raises because they aren't sure the state will continue funding the increased salaries.

Deal's top aides went without raises. They passed the extra money for pay on to lower-level staffers.