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Editor's Note: Follow the money on Council pay hike 

'I actually qualified for full retirement without penalty seven years and seven months ago, but decided to remain in the ACCPD. During the last seven years I have essentially forfeited a significant amount of retirement benefits.'

Joseph 'Jack' Lumpkin, in his official statement announcing his retirement as Athens/Clarke County Police Chief

'By taking a position in a different organization he could receive his retirement benefits while also being compensated for a full time job. Jack wants to acquire additional financial resources in order to help support his grandchildren's future education and other needs. It is difficult to know how to respond to this information.'

—Athens/Clarke County Manager Alan Reddish, on Lumpkin's announcement

OUR NEW POLICE CHIEF deserves the fairest chance of success. Savannah deserves the fairest chance of success.

So I won’t say anything too negative about incoming 65-year-old Savannah/Chatham Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin, as a person or as a policeman.

Who knows? He could turn out to be the best chief we’ve ever had. Time will tell.

Let’s at least give him points for honesty! No hidden agenda on his part.

I’m more concerned with the fact that his new bosses here —the City Manager and City Council, and to a much lesser extent the Chatham County Commission—decided to hire someone for such a key position who is a short-timer and will cycle out in a few years, necessitating a repeat of the whole grueling, expensive process.

(Scuttlebutt is that Lumpkin is tasked with “grooming” current Assistant Police Chief Terry Enoch to take over the top job after Lumpkin gets the five years he’ll need to qualify for a Savannah pension. But as we’ve seen lately, five years may as well be an eternity in local politics.)

As with most decisions, that one didn’t come in a vacuum. The move to hire Lumpkin—and essentially commit Savannah taxpayers to another retirement check for him—came concurrently with City Council voting itself a sizable annual pay raise.

(Mary Ellen Sprague was the only dissenter in the 8-1 vote.)

Currently council members make about $14,000 a year for the supposedly part-time positions. In 2016 the pay will go up to $25,000. The mayor’s salary will jump from $41,000 to $57,000. 

Didn’t hear too much about that, did you? No trumpeting press release, little mainstream media coverage.

Move along, nothing to see here....

To be fair, some sober political observers maintain a higher salary for our mayor and aldermen is necessary and long overdue, since the last raise was in 1999.

Some say a raise is needed in order to attract better candidates, as well as to keep both the independently wealthy (who don’t need the salary at all) and the perpetually broke (for whom the salary is their living wage) from wielding outsized influence on local affairs.

They may have a point.

And as I’ve written before, Mayor Edna Jackson earned every cent of her salary and then some in just a few days, with her work defusing the potentially cataclysmic, Ferguson-level tension on the Westside after the shooting of Charles Smith by police. (With no help from certain other local politicians who went out of their way to stoke further racial unrest.)

But sometimes you gotta go with your gut.

And outside the usual local power-broker circles, if there’s one thing that unites regular Savannah folks these days—despite what they may think of their own representative—it’s the sentiment that collectively this City Council not only doesn’t deserve a penny more, but probably should be humbly issuing taxpayer refunds.

Even if you make a strong case for a pay raise for City Council, why couldn’t the money go first to the many City departments beset by recent budget cuts and layoffs, often of critical, experienced staff?

The pay raise idea has been in the works most of 2014. While it won’t go into effect until 2016, it’s clear that Council wanted to get the vote out of the way so the public might forget about it during their re-election campaigns in 2015.

And make no mistake: despite the grace period, in their mind Council voted themselves this pay raise. The ones running for re-election aren’t running to lose, after all.

But another local political observer I trust says don’t focus too much attention on the raise. It’s typical shenanigans, he says, small potatoes compared to the big picture.

Always keep your eye on the big picture.

Among other things, the big picture tells us this City Council is responsible for much of the mess it will pay itself more money to try and clean up:

• The imminent breakup of the police merger over ongoing power struggles with Chatham County...

• Rampaging and relentless violent crime among teenagers, answered with the hiring of an affable retiree as police chief...

• The virtual guarantee of a quick pension for the new chief at a time when the City pension fund is already facing a $100 million unfunded liability...

• The frequent overruling of local oversight boards in favor of big-money developers...

• And let’s not forget the brief but disastrous tenure of former City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney, effects from which are still felt to this day.

Most all of this, and more, is courtesy largely of the folks currently serving as your Mayor and Council.

Some supporters of the salary increase say “you get what you pay for.”

But if all we get are the same old politicians again and again, just at higher pay... what are we really getting for our money?

Someone is getting what they’re paying for from this City Council, that’s for sure. And apparently hopes to get more from it.

So who benefits from paying the same people more money to stay in office?

Whoever it is, they’re also betting you’ll forget about the pay raise come this time next year when Election Day rolls around.

Will you?

cs
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Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

Bio:
A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more

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