Jurors split on raises

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 18, 2008

VIDALIA — Some police jurors are undecided on the issue of a pay raise, others have made a decision and at least one has a slightly nuanced opinion.

Police Juror Jerry Beatty made the original motion to have a public hearing Dec. 8 to discuss the possibility of a pay raise on Nov 10.

But he said he is unsure how he will vote on the issue itself.

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The state legislature has to vote to allow an increase in police jury pay, and then the individual juries decide whether or not to take that raise.

Jurors are currently paid $1,200 a month, but the legislature has allowed for as much as $1,600 a month. The current legislative act would allow the jury president to be compensated an extra $400 a month.

“Nobody wanted to make the motion to have a public hearing, so I said, ‘I’ll do it, it’s just a meeting,’” Beatty said.

If the pay raise is passed, those who oppose it can decline the increase, Beatty said.

Whether or not he ultimately votes for or accepts the pay raise, Beatty said he believes the president of the jury deserves a raise.

Juror Whest Shirley, who had to leave the Nov. 10 meeting early because he had to attend a basketball game at Vidalia Junior High School, where he is principal, said he would have voted against the hearing and he will vote no on the raise.

“When I was elected last year I knew what the salary was,” he said.

But he agreed with Beatty about the president’s pay.

“I would not be opposed to the president getting a raise,” Shirley said. “He is (at the police jury office) several hours a day, and it is almost like a full-time job.”

The police jury president is chosen in January. Current President Melvin Ferrington said he hasn’t minded doing the president’s work at the same pay as the other jury members, but it has been a lot of work, whether fielding calls from state offices to meeting with officials to discuss various issues.

“Whoever is the president, it is a full-time job if he does his job like he is supposed to,” Ferrington said.

Even outside of the president’s position, it is the amount of work involved with being a juror that causes Juror Jimmy Jernigan to be in favor of the raise.

“I get out all the time and see the people in my district,” Jernigan said. “It’s not like I just go to a meeting twice a month.”

Getting out into the district means taking time to look at roads and hearing people’s complaints — and helping them even if the jury can’t help them officially.

During a recent disaster, a citizen called Jernigan with a drainage concern, and he knew the jury couldn’t provide the help she needed because of her location on a state highway.

But he went to the location where inmates were creating sandbags and collected enough so he could help her himself, Jernigan said.

Beatty had similar stories, including cleaning out ditches himself and even helping a constituent roof her house free of charge.

Jernigan also said that, if there is a special meeting during the day, he doesn’t hesitate to take off from his work as a contract welder.

“I feel it is my duty as an elected official to take off work when we have a special meeting,” he said.

Juror Randy Temple voted against even having the hearing and has previously voiced opposition to the pay raise. But the point of having a public hearing is to get input, Beatty said.

“We have it so people can come and express their opinions before we vote on it,” he said.

Other jurors could not be reached by phone.