You Want What?

Whether he's thumbing his nose at Loudon County residents or helping fat cat developers side step local regulations, Loudon County Planner, Russ Newman, has been and continues to be a thorn in the county's side.

Newman who has been the county planner for seven or eight years now has managed to screw up most everything he puts his hands on including his own department. Through reckless and irresponsible spending, Newman finally broke his own departments budget. Lenoir City officials who had also been a part of Newman's planning services dumped him earlier this year.

For all his failures, County Mayor Doyle Arp rewarded Newman with a new post and title. He is now in charge of county planning, codes enforcement and zoning enforcement. After the planning office went broke Arp combined planning, codes enforcement and zoning and put Newman in charge. But that's not the real story.

The real story is in Newman's new budget he is asking to continue to draw the same outrageous salary he was being paid before the planning department went broke. Newman currently makes more than $67,000.00. That's more than a number of our elected officials. With the loss both Lenoir City and Loudon's planning work, Newman's work load has been reduced by at least seventy-five percent. Additionally, Newman is not certified as a codes enforcement/inspector.

So, Newman essentially does nothing, or is not qualified for the job he now has but he feels he needs a 2% raise to his 67k salary. Fortunately, it doesn't appear that most commissioners share Newman's high opinion of his value to the county. At last weeks commission budget meeting, several commissioners suggested reducing Newman's salary to be in line with other county department heads. If that passes, that would reduce Newman's salary down to around $53,000.00.

The final decision will be made when commission meets on October 12th to finalize the county's budget.

 County planners salary questioned

Mary E. Hinds News Herald

The Loudon County Commission members continue to look for ways to cut costs as they try to settle on a budget for 2009-2010.

One issue before the commission is deciding on an appropriate salary for County Planner Russ Newman to receive for overseeing two offices combined into one and the number of employees needed to run the operations. In a effort to cut costs earlier in June the county commission voted to combine the Planning and Community Development Agency and the Loudon County Building Inspector's Office into the Office of Planning and Codes Enforcement.

Officials said the slowed economy and the smaller number of building permits issued since the recession began prompted the combination of the offices. Bill Cox, who headed the building inspector's office, retired and County Planner Russ Newman was tapped to oversee the new combined office. The change was also prompted by Lenoir City's withdrawal from the interlocal agreement to fund the planning office. 

In the process of combining the offices, the number of employees went from eight to five, including the retirement of Cox. Currently, the office consists of two building inspectors, one codes enforcement officer, Newman and an administrative assistant. The county commission is considering cutting the office by one more employee. 

While not doing inspections in Lenoir City has cut the work load somewhat, Newman said overseeing permits and inspections in the county and for the City of Loudon obligates his employees to cover a large geographic area. Newman defended his staff during Wednesday's budget meeting saying the two building inspectors are currently busy doing approximately two inspections per day, 21 weekdays per month and explaining that many buildings require more than one inspection. There is also paperwork required for each inspection. "Can you do that with one qualified inspector?" Newman asked the commission indicating if a building inspector's position was eliminated it would "significantly impact our ability to do the job." 

The other question is how much should Newman be paid for overseeing the combined office and how does his proposed pay stack up against the salaries of other department heads and elected officials. 

Commissioner Austin Shaver said paying Newman more than $67,000 when other department heads in the county are earning $52,500 and elected county officials $64,000, especially considering Lenoir City's withdrawal from the planning office, is a cause for concern. Commissioner Earlena Maples said in light of the bad economy it didn't seem reasonable Newman was making more than other department heads. Commissioner Nancy Marcus agreed saying that was more than Cox had made and he was a certified codes inspector.  

Several commissioners said it didn't make sense for Newman to earn more than Director of Accounts and Budgets Tracy Blair who works long hours keeping track of the budgets for every county department and using her own time to stay abreast of budget issues.

Commissioner Don Miller said Blair does a "fantastic job," works too many hours and has the "biggest job in the county after the mayor."

The county budget committee has recommended Blair be given a raise from her current $61,000 salary that would be more in line with Newman's $67,000 salary. Shaver agreed Blair is great at what she does but "we don't have that much money and we have to be sensitive to what others make." 

Maples said Newman's salary "starts the ball rolling upward" and perhaps forces the county to raise other department heads' salaries to be comparable. This when "a lot of people don't have a job."

Marcus agreed with Maples telling Newman it was "not personal" but she "cannot see an appointed position making more than elected officials" and adding that raising Newman's salary so much could cause a "chain reaction" of salary hikes. 

Newman reminded the commissioners he still did the job of county planner with the additional responsibilities of the building inspector.  He also said his research found planners in surrounding counties were earning more than the proposed increase in his salary and those other planners were not taking on inspection duties, supervising as many employees or serving more than one jurisdiction.  "I have over 20 years experience," Newman told the commissioners adding that he was doing his old job plus an additional new job which "doesn't justify a reduction in my salary."

Newman's salary and the fate of his employees will be determined when the commission votes on the budget during the Oct. 12 county commission meeting.