Bill for new Stonecrest charter, mayor's pay rise unlikely to pass

Georgia senators Tonya Anderson (District 43), of Lithonia; Gloria Butler (District 55), of Stone Mountain; and Emanuel Jones (District 10), of Decatur, attend a public town hall in Lithonia on March 20 to talk about House Bill 1060, which would change Stonecrest's charter and give the mayor an $80,000 salary package.

A bill that would give Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary an $80,000 salary package is not likely to pass through the Georgia Senate, despite being approved on the House floor.

House Bill 1060, introduced on March 14, sets a new charter for the city of Stonecrest, which came into existence as DeKalb’s newest city when residents voted for it in the November 2016 general election.

The bill, passed in the House on March 21, has now been referred to the Senate Committee on State and Local Government Operations.

But there has been no further movement on the bill, and the 2018 Georgia legislative session ended midnight March 29.

To progress through the Senate, the bill needs support from at least two of three members who represent portions of Stonecrest, which covers much of southeast DeKalb County.

Sen. Tonya Anderson (District 43) of Lithonia, Sen. Gloria Butler (District 55), of Stone Mountain, and Sen. Emanuel Jones (District 10) of Decatur attended a public town hall in Lithonia on March 20 and told the 60-plus residents gathered there that they did not support the bill.

“It does not have, to my knowledge, the support of the Senate delegation to move forward,” Anderson said.

Therefore, there would be “no point” dropping it on the Senate floor, Anderson, a former mayor of Lithonia, said.

“I think it struggled to get the support on the House side. It probably won’t make it to the Senate, and if it does then it does not have the support. There would be no reason to drop this bill,” she said.

Asked whether they supported HB1060, Butler and Jones also said no.

“There’s major, major changes in 1060 that all of us should be concerned about, for all of us that appreciate good government,” Jones said.

He said he does not support the proposed $75,000 salary and $5,000 expenses package for the Stonecrest mayor’s part-time job – a salary raise of $55,000.

In the current Stonecrest charter, enacted on April 21, 2016, the mayor receives a $20,000 salary and can claim reimbursement of up to $5,000 of work-related expenses each year.

Council members receive a $15,000 salary and up to $3,000 in annual expenses.

Jones said Stonecrest was created with a “weak mayor, strong city council” structure, and HB1060 aims to change that.

There are no pay rises for council members in the bill.

“Everyone that ran for office knew what that form of government was,” Jones said.

“I believe in five people more than I believe in one person running roughshod over everybody else. It doesn’t have anything to do with personality, because mayors come and mayors go,” he said.

Jones said he also opposes the 60 percent salary increase that DeKalb County commissioners voted themselves on Feb. 27, taking their base part-time salary from $40,530 to $64,637 a year.

That move also concerned Sen. Fran Millar (District 40) of Dunwoody, who proposed a bill amendment to delay implementation of the pay rise until 2021 – after all the current commissioners’ terms expire.

For many DeKalb residents, the commissioners’ pay rise and the proposed salary increase for the Stonecrest mayor is a worry.

Several people at the Lithonia town hall on March 20, hosted by the Stonecrest Citizens Coalition at the Salem-Panola Library, voiced opposition to HB1060 and the mayor’s pay rise.

Lary attended the 90-minute meeting and spoke briefly in defense of his role, but did not mention his proposed salary increase.

“We don’t have a weak mayor, strong council form of government. We have a strong mayor form of government,” he said.

The mayor was supported by a few who spoke at the meeting, including Stonecrest businessmen Leighton Hall and Matthew Hampton, who asked the senators to support HB1060.

“It is essential we have support from you all for this bill because of what it does for economic development,” said Hampton, who runs the AEI Startup Factory on Evans Mill Road in Stonecrest with his wife, Maria.

Hall said Stonecrest should be as robust as Buckhead, Dunwoody and other DeKalb cities.

“So I’m asking you to join me in supporting this bill,” he said.

The main sponsor of HB1060 is state Rep. Vernon Jones (District 91) of Lithonia, who declined to comment.

It is co-sponsored by five other members whose districts include parts of Stonecrest – Rep. Pam Stephenson (District 90) of Decatur; Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick (District 93) of Lithonia; Rep. “Coach” Williams (District 87) of Avondale Estates; Rep. Doreen Carter (District 92) of Lithonia; and Rep. Karen Bennett (District 94) of Stone Mountain.

HB1060 is not the only bill at the state Capitol that would change Stonecrest’s charter.

On March 14, House Bill 600 passed in the Senate, having passed in the House during the 2017 legislative session, when it was introduced by Carter.

But it too has not moved any further before the close of this year’s legislative session.

HB600 keeps the Stonecrest mayor’s salary at $20,000 and imposes limits on the position, including a two consecutive term limit on the mayor and council members, and only allowing the mayor to vote on council matters in the event of a tie.

Currently Stonecrest’s elected officials can serve unlimited four-year terms and the mayor is a voting member of the city council.

HB600 is co-sponsored by Kendrick, Jones, Bennett and Stephenson.

Carter did not respond to requests for comment.