The Richmond Hill City Council discussed the 2020 budget and the pension of former Richmond Hill city employee and council member elect Steve Scholar at Tuesday night’s regular meeting.
Voters elected Scholar Dec. 3 to take the seat on Richmond Hill City Council currently filled by Les Fussell. Scholar is a former Richmond Hill-Bryan County News editor and publisher who has long covered local government for area publications.
Now, the retired Richmond Hill planning and zoning director is finding his pension from the city has gotten scrutiny on social media.
“There’s been some information that I’m double-dipping to get two pensions from the city,” Scholar said Tuesday.
He said he was told he would have to give up the pension he receives from the Georgia Municipal Authority (GMA), but said, “That is erroneous.”
The contention hinges on ordinance 2-235 (a) cited by City Attorney Ray Smith: No person employed by the city or retired from the city shall either publicly or otherwise hold himself out as a candidate in any city election while holding employment with the city, or receiving retirement pay or any compensation from the city.
Smith said the pension received by former city employees is not paid by the city, but is instead paid by GMA. City Council member-elect Mark Ott called out Scholar in a social media post and came back Tuesday night to admit his mistake.
“I understood that the pension [Scholar receives] is from the city, based on the information I had at the time,” Ott said. “I implore you to educate the residents so that we know what is going on.” The council had the opportunity to direct City Manager Chris Lovell to ask GMA to amend the city’s defined benefit adoption agreement. Smith went on to clarify what an amendment to the ordinance signifies: “Amending the policy, it is both natural and probably that people will see it as self-serving, but it is anything but,” he said. “It is nothing less than what the law allows.”
He went on to explain there are two groups of retired citizens in Richmond Hill – those who have worked for the city and those who have not. While the second group may run for election without contention, the first would stand to lose their pension if the ordinance stands.
Smith urged the council to strongly consider moving to amend the ordinance to avoid legal repercussions and to avoid unconstitutional interpretation.
The council voted to direct Lovell to request an amendment to the agreement from GMA contingent on an amendment to the ordinance in question as well, clarifying that former employees do not receive pension from the city of Richmond Hill but instead from the Georgia Municipal Association.
In other business: The council approved the 2020 city council meeting schedule and the 2020 budget in the amount of $9,947,000. The council also approved monthly reports for the fire, police, and public works departments.
Newly seated council member Robbie Ward recused himself from the Richmond Hill Downtown Development Authority, but praised the effort to name The Bottom’s park in honor of Mayor Russ Carpenter’s ailing father Robert “Bobby” Carpenter.
“[The council] did this together and with the residents,” Ward said. “There was doubt about it, we had to do this. Mr. Bobby is not doing well and we need to get this done as soon as possible.”
Carpenter said his father would be honored by the move that was unanimously approved by the council members.
City Council member Les Fussell spent his last meeting thanking his family and his community for their support over the last 15 years of service, first on the planning and zoning committee and then on the city council. He said he would still be involved in the community and has seen great things happening in Richmond Hill that he hopes will continue.