Public safety raises leave out sheriff

By Justin Boron

Although financial constraints prompted the Clayton County Board of Commissioners to block a legislative pay raise for sheriff, the county's two other public safety heads both got substantial salary increases in next year's budget.

Fire Chief Alex Cohilas and Police Chief Darrell Partain will be paid $98,629 next year, said Renee Bright, the director of the county personnel.

The $13,660 raise for the police chief and $9,331 raise for the fire chief resulted from an amendment to the fiscal 2006 budget, which the county commission adopted Tuesday and takes effect July 1.

Commissioner Charley Griswell, who proposed the amendment, said the amount takes into account some extra responsibility assumed by each chief and brings them in line with other the chiefs of surrounding metro counties.

The Fulton County police chief makes $135,000 annually. The DeKalb County police chief makes $132,636 annually. The Henry County police chief makes $80,000 annually.

Fire chiefs' salaries were unavailable.

Sheriff Victor Hill called the raises hypocritical because four of the five members of the board petitioned the governor to veto about $102,000 worth of legislative pay raises for judges, court officials, and the sheriff.

A $3,027 pay raise, passed in the most recent General Assembly, would have increased Hill's salary to $89,450.

In a letter to Gov. Sonny Perdue, the commission, with the exception of Commissioner Wole Ralph, said it couldn't handle the raises financially because of the hit the county would take on a recently passed law that limits the amount of fuel sales tax it can collect from Delta Air Lines. Perdue vetoed the raises, citing a lack of cooperation between the local delegation and the county commission.

Hill also questioned the merit of the police chief's raise.

"Is the increase in salary for the police chief for the increase in crime during his tenure? Are they rewarding him?" he asked.

Partain was unavailable for comment. Assistant Police Chief Jeff Turner said Partain was on vacation.

Hill was a Clayton County detective while running for sheriff and resigned suddenly two months after winning the primary in August. He left his patrol car parked in Partain's space with his badge and other police equipment in it.

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, the chairwoman of the local legislative delegation, said the public safety raises were not for her to question. But she held firm on justifying the legislative pay raises.

"I'm not saying the fire chief or the police chief aren't deserving," she said. "I'm saying the (judges and court officials) are just as deserving."

Griswell said many of the legislative raises bothered him because several of the officials who would have received them had only recently taken office in January.

He also downplayed the sheriff's remarks.

"He's good on words," Griswell said. "He needs to quit using all those big words and save his energy and guidance for running the jail."