Herbert H. Mabry has been an appointed member of the Fulton County Personnel Board since January 1, 1972. On October 6, 1994, he asserted an action against the Board of Trustees of the Fulton County Employees Retirement System and its members ("the Board"), in their official capacities, to compel the Board to recognize his alleged eligibility under a pension system that is administered by the Board and was implemented by Fulton County on July 1, 1982. 1
The Board answered, claiming that Mabry is not eligible to participate in Fulton County's retirement system because the county's 1982 pension ordinance was adopted solely for the benefit of county employees, not persons such as Mabry who "are members of a Board." 2
After a bench trial, the trial court found that Fulton County's 1982 pension "ordinance and plan [provides that] the following persons [are] eligible to participate in the pension fund: '(a) All state and County Officers, Deputies and employees whose salary or wages are paid in whole or in part by the Finance Department of Fulton County (b) All state Officers, deputies and employees whose salary or wages are paid in whole or in part by the Finance Department of Fulton County" ' The trial court also found that, "[b]eginning in 1981 and continuing in 1982 and at periodic times after that, Mabry requested the right to participate in the Fulton County Retirement System [and that] Mabry has offered and tendered all contributions to the Employee's Retirement System from July 1, 1982 to the present with accrued interest." The trial court concluded that "Mabry is an employee under sub sections (a) and (b) of the 1982 Pension Resolution [and declared that he] is entitled to contribute to the Fulton County Retirement System." The trial court then ordered that "a Writ of Mandamus Absolute issue [for the Board] to allow [Mabry] to become a member of the Fulton County Employee's Retirement System as of July 1, 1982[, and declared] that [Mabry] is entitled to pay back contributions with accrued interest to such plan so that he shall maintain continuous retirement service from July 1, 1982 through the current date of his employment and until the termination of his employment." This appeal followed. 3
"The right to a pension depends upon whether or not the officer or employee is within the terms of an applicable pension law." McQuillin, Vol. 3, The Law of Municipal Corporations, p. 725, 12.147 (3rd ed.). And in so construing such authority, trial courts should liberally construe the law in favor of employees. See Employees Retirement System of Ga. v. Baughman, 241 Ga. 339
, 341 (2) (245 SE2d 282
). In the case sub judice, Mabry claims pension benefits under the Fulton County pension ordinance that became effective on July 1, 1982. The Board, however, contends this ordinance does not confer Mabry with benefits because it does not specifically mention eligibility for members of the Fulton County Personnel Board. We find this argument lacking in that it focuses exclusively upon what the 1982 pension ordinance does not provide rather than on what the ordinance provides, i.e., a broad class of individuals eligible for benefits under the county's pension system. 4
Fulton County's 1982 pension ordinance pertinently defines persons eligible for retirement benefits as " '[a]ll State and County Officers . . . and employees whose salary or wages are paid in whole or in part by the Finance Department of Fulton County' " There is no question that Mabry's salary has, at all pertinent times, been " 'paid in whole or in part by the Finance Department of Fulton County" ' The disputed issue is whether Mabry is an "employee" within the meaning of the 1982 pension ordinance. And to this end, the Board asserts that Mabry is not an "employee" because the state law which established the Fulton County Personnel Board, Ga. L. 1982, p. 4896 et seq., does not state that personnel board members are "employees," but identifies them as members of the county's " 'unclassified service." ' Ga. L. 1982, pp. 4896, 4902, 6 (b). The Board also asserts that Mabry cannot be considered an employee for purposes of pension eligibility because his duties on the personnel board "are supervisory in nature and [are] not to be carried out under the direction and supervision of any other county board or agency" These contentions are without merit.
Although Ga. L. 1982, pp. 4896, 4902, 6 (b) (2), designates "members of boards" as "being in the 'unclassified service,' " nothing in this Act provides that the services furnished by a member of Fulton County's Personnel Board are not the services of an employee." Further, the supervisory nature of Mabry's job is not determinative of his eligibility under Fulton County's 1982 pension ordinance. Indeed, saying otherwise ignores that "County Officials," as well as "County . . . employees," are eligible for benefits under the 1982 pension ordinance. See McQuillin, Vol. 3, The Law of Municipal Corporations, p. 730, 12.148 (3rd ed.). Compare Fulton County v. Holland, 71 Ga. App. 455 (31 SE2d 202), where the claimant was working for the county under an independent contract, but was found to be eligible for pension benefits, just as a regular employee, because of proof that he had substantial connection, either direct or indirect, with the county department of which he was alleged to be an employee. Id. at 457-461 (1).
In the case sub judice, it is undisputed that Fulton County pays Mabry a fixed monthly salary, retains power to terminate him for cause and controls the environment in which Mabry carries out his duties. Further, Mabry's duties are strictly defined and controlled by state law and are completely and exhaustively related to Fulton County's personnel administration. Finally, it is undisputed that Mabry performs his duties upon appointment and, for designated terms, at the pleasure of the Fulton County Commission. Under these circumstances, we find no error in the trial court's determination that Mabry "is entitled to contribute to the Fulton County Retirement System." The evidence authorizes a finding that Mabry is either employed as a "County Official" or an "employee" as these terms are defined under Fulton County's 1982 pension ordinance. See City of Macon v. Herrington, 198 Ga. 576, 589 (2) (32 SE2d 517). Accordingly, we affirm the trial court in its judgment of "Writ of Mandamus Absolute [for the Board] to allow [Mabry] to become a member of the Fulton County Employee's Retirement System as of July 1, 1982[, and declaration] that [Mabry] is entitled to pay back contributions with accrued interest to such plan so that he shall maintain continuous retirement service from July 1, 1982 through the current date of his employment and until the termination of his employment."
BEASLEY, Chief Judge, concurring specially
I concur in the opinion but believe it should be made clear that we are not deciding, expressly or by implication, the issue of whether the "minimum pension resolution" of February 15, 1995 (setting the minimum at $330 per month) was intended to cover part-time employees, such as Board members, who receive salaries below that amount.
John T. Ferguson, for appellant.