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County side stepped the law in giving Tobar a raise

Over the course of the last several weeks it has come to light that last summer the Grady County Commission gave County Administrator Carlos Tobar a $10,475 raise, but it appears the action is not legal or binding since there was never a public vote on the matter.
Hired in 2013 at a salary of $67,500, Tobar is now being paid $80,000 annually.
A review of the meeting minutes by The Cairo Messenger does not indicate commissioners voted to approve the 15 percent pay hike in a public meeting. The newspaper has requested the county to produce copies of minutes where the raise was voted on in public, but none have been provided.
Georgia law permits governing bodies to meet behind closed doors to discuss the compensation of public officers and employees, but the law clearly states that a vote on any matter shall be taken in public and minutes of the meeting made available. It also is legal under state law for the board to give consensus on a compensation matter in order to negotiate with an employee, but once the negotiations are complete the governing body must vote on the agreement in public.
Apparently the raise was discussed during a closed session held on Tuesday, July 15 held one hour prior to the regularly scheduled commission meeting that began at 6 p.m.
According to the minutes of the closed session the purpose of the secret meeting was to discuss a personnel matter concerning an employment agreement.
However, according to the minutes that were approved by the county commissioners at their Aug. 4, 2014 meeting “no action was taken as a result of the closed session.”
When questioned this week by The Messenger, County Administrator Tobar admitted that the raise took effect with the first pay period of August 2014. Tobar is paid biweekly.
Without documentation in the minutes or a public vote, time seems to have clouded the minds of elected officials concerning their action.
Commissioner T.D. David served as the chairman of the commission in 2014 and when questioned by The Messenger recently David could not remember exactly who was in attendance at the meeting where the board took action to approve the raise.
David contends the action was taken in an open meeting, but there are no county records to document that. The former chairman also said that no representative from The Messenger was present nor was County Commissioner Charles Norton.
However, the minutes of the July 15 closed session indicate that Norton was present, but that former Commissioner Billy Poitevint participated via telephone.
Tobar began work here on June 3, 2013. As part of his employment agreement he was required to establish residency here within six months of his hiring, which he failed to do.
In fact it was 15 months after his hiring that Tobar and his family moved here. Grady County public records show that Carlos F. Tobar and Rebekah K. Tobar purchased a home at 236 Sleepy Hollow S.E. in Cairo last September at a cost of $162,000.
According to Commissioner David, the board increased the administrator’s pay to help facilitate the move. He said that job performance was not a major consideration in the pay hike.
“Sometimes you do what is prudent, not necessarily your first choice. I think he (Tobar) took it (the requirement to move within six months) too lightly to begin with. We did hold his feet to the fire,” David said.
The former commission chairman said that the administrator told the board he had purchased a “fixer-upper” in Jeff Davis County and in order to get the home in sellable condition and be able to afford to purchase a home here he needed additional income.
“We agreed to increase his pay if he agreed to be in a house here by Jan. 1, 2015. If he didn’t commit then we told him we would not pay him any more,” David said.
When asked why the board would pay Tobar more to comply with an agreement the administrator had already breached, David said “we acquiesced somewhat, but so did he.”
Commissioner LaFaye Copeland, who on Tuesday was elected chairman of the board, had taken notes from the closed door session and was able to shed some light on the matter, but some inconsistencies remain.
According to Commissioner Copeland, the board agreed to up the moving allowance from $4,000 to $10,000.
Tobar said he was paid a lump sum payment of $4,000 on Sept. 25, 2014 to cover expenses of moving from Jeff Davis County to Grady County as provided for in his contract when he was hired in 2013.
Commissioner Copeland was also not certain what the total amount of the raise was, but did say that Tobar would not be eligible for a raise in 2015 or 2016.
“He doesn’t get any more raises. He’s at the cap now,” she added.
Tobar contends he is only ineligible for a raise in 2015. In addition to the raise given in secret in July, Tobar also received a three percent raise in Jan. 2014.
Commissioner Elwyn Childs said he supported the 15 percent raise, but he also was not sure exactly when the decision had been made. “The reason he gave for needing more money was he needed it to get a house. We had promised him an increase after he stayed a while and got his feet on the ground,” Childs said.
Commissioner Charles Norton was also unsure when the decision was made and could not remember being at a meeting to vote on the increase, but he said he would have supported the action.
“We had put $4,000 in his contract to help with the move. He’s gotten us some grants so job performance was also a consideration,” Norton said.
The only commissioner who says he opposed the raise was former Commissioner Poitevint.
“I was opposed to it and I told them so,” Poitevint said this week.
Even County Clerk Carrie Kines’ response to questions differed from accounts given by some commissioners and Tobar.
According to Ms. Kines, the board approved adding $10,000 to Tobar’s salary as a housing allowance instead of a lump sum and the $4,000 moving allowance was done away with.
She also reported that the action on the raise took place in a closed session in August.
Officials are also not on the same page when asked where the additional money to cover the raise was coming from out of the 2014 budget.
Commissioner Copeland said the money was coming out of contingency, but Tobar said there was sufficient money in the salary line item and the 2014 budget had been prepared when he was hired.
Tobar said this week that this was a personnel issue and the board was within its right to vote in closed session.
He also said his salary is the lowest of any county manager or administrator in this region, according to the Department of Community Affairs website.
Tobar’s tenure has been marked with some success and lots of change.
Since taking the reins of county government in June 2013 there has been turnover in the leadership of the finance office, the road department, and county shop. The county commission has taken action to bring in outside accounting help in order to get all bank statements reconciled through Dec. 31, 2014. At one point late last year, statements dating back to last February had not been reconciled.
On the other hand, Tobar takes credit for the county being awarded several grants including a controversial $489,167 Community Development Block Grant for drainage improvements in a south Grady County subdivision. County commissioners have since instructed Tobar to put that project on hold.
The administrator applied for and received a $100,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to fund, in part, lighting improvements at Barber Park. Working with consulting engineer Stacy Watkins, Tobar also was successful in the county being awarded a $1.2 million grant from the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank through the State Road & Tollway Authority.
“We have requests that exceed $4.5 million right now and we intend to keep applying for more. I hope that the board and the residents feel they receive great value for my services and their tax dollars,” Tobar said Tuesday.
Tobar also commented, “I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to serve Grady County.  I have worked in the public sector since 1994 and the residents in each community I have worked have always expressed their appreciation for my work ethic and results.  I have strived to operate more efficiently, reduce costs and bring in additional resources.  I have been blessed to have earned my Master’s degree and had a variety of jobs in the public sector that have expanded my skill set.  I have taken on duties that were outsourced previously in order to save the county money.  Many of these duties I have to perform after 5 p.m. which I do gladly.”
The 15 percent raise came just one month after the only performance evaluation the county commission has done of Tobar.
According to County Clerk Kines, a performance evaluation was conducted in June 2014 and the results averaged between fair and good.
Tobar received low marks for communication with department heads, having good relationships with the office staff, and seeking advice from others before making decisions on matters upon which he is unfamiliar.
The board rated the administrator as “good” in managing his time and giving board requests the utmost attention.
The administrator said this week he expects the board to evaluate his performance again in June.
Tobar came to Grady County from Jeff Davis County where he was voted out as the county administrator there after only 89 days on the job.
Prior to taking the Jeff Davis job, he worked a year or less as the director of mass transit for the Jacksonville, Fla., Transportation Authority in 2009 until 2010 and before that he worked for a year or less as the chief operating officer for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority from 2008 until 2009.
From 2005 until 2008, Tobar was the transit system manager for the city of Elk Grove, Calif.
According to his resume, he earned a bachelor of arts in economics from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s of public administration from the University of West Florida.
When asked this week if the board would revisit the pay raise issue and conduct a public vote, Chairman LaFaye Copeland said she did not know what to do next, but that she would speak with County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley and the other members of the board.

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