Coweta State Court Solicitor Robert Stokely took a minimum wage job at Wendy’s in late January, he says, to make ends meet after his expected cost-of-living raise was withheld.
Stokely was asked about the job after someone contacted The Times-Herald to say she had seen the solicitor at the restaurant three times.
Stokely’s salary is based on a percentage of the salary paid to superior court judges.
Last fall, Gov. Sonny Perdue decided to hold back a raise for judges because of state budget constraints. The raise for Stokely “is sitting in the budget” for his office, he said, but Coweta County officials decided not to give him the raise. That decision is entirely in their rights, Stokely said.
Most county employees did get the cost-of-living raise, said Patricia Palmer, Coweta County public information officer, but several employees whose job is partially governed by the state did not, she said. That included state court and superior court judges.
When Stokely found out he wasn’t getting the raise, “I looked at my personal budget. I said, I’ve got commitments I’ve made to people that I will help them with what they are doing, and I’ve got bills to pay, and I am not breaking my word to those people,” Stokely said. “I went out and got the best job I could find.”
Though Stokely’s annual salary is a little more than $93,000, “it just comes down that with the cost of living and looking at where my financial situation is — I can’t stagnate,” he said.
“I know somebody is going to say, golly, he is lucky” to be making that much money, Stokely said. “I consider myself a very fortunate person, but I’ve worked very hard to get where I’m at,” he said. “I think the fact that I work for minimum wage shows I am willing to work.”
“Instead of whining” or reneging on his charitable commitments, “I said, OK, get out there and get a second job,” Stokely said.
Several years ago, Stokely started driving a transport truck on the weekends to pay the salary of an assistant in his office. But these days, the trucking industry is slow. Plus, that job required too much commitment of time.
The Wendy’s restaurant is near his home, and “I’m the filler guy on the schedule,” Stokely said. “I have made it very clear that I don’t want somebody else’s job cut short just for me.”
The job doesn’t cut into the time he spends as solicitor, Stokely said. “What I do on my time is my business as long as it doesn’t conflict with my duties.”
Stokely was asked whether he might be taking a job away from someone who needs the money.
Stokely said he can’t take responsibility for something like that. “I’m sure Wendy’s didn’t hire me just to give the solicitor a $7.25 supplement. That door is open for them to go and apply just like it was for me,” he said.
“If somebody doesn’t have a job and they are upset that I am out there trying to work two jobs, then they have got to be upset with a lot of people, because I am not alone.”
Stokely said he applied to 10 or 12 jobs before he was hired to work at Wendy’s. He said he got quite a few strange looks when he told prospective employers about his day job.
“I know how tough it is out there finding jobs, and I’m sorry if anybody doesn’t have a job,” Stokely said.
“But I’m just doing what it takes for me to make a living in life and pay my bills.”
The job has given him a whole new appreciation for those who work in the fast- food industry.
“It is hard work and you’ve got to be fast afoot and fast with your mind,” he said. “People work hard for what they make and I am really impressed,” he said. “I have really learned a lot of management strategy down there, to be honest.”
It has also been pretty rewarding. “I feel extremely appreciated when I go into Wendy’s and go behind the counter. They tell me when I do a good job,” he said. “They act like it makes a difference what I do down there every day.”