Lawsuit Threat Sparks Pay Raise Hikes


Contributed by: Ann Hinch on 8/11/2006

It was nostalgic to see Loudon County commissioners Van Shaver and Ed Harold in form one last time at the Aug. 7 meeting - mostly voting the opposite of one another.

Now, it hasn't happened all their years on commission; just enough to spark humor when both voted against lowering the building commissioner's salary $550 (they were in the minority) to bring him in line with other county department heads making $50,000 annually.

This turned out to be only one of two votes not to budget more money to a county office for wages.

Appointed department heads report directly to county mayor, and the retiring George Miller asked commission to equalize their pay. It did increase salaries to put the directors of purchasing, E911 and recycling each at $50,000; senior center director at $35,000; and Finance Director Tracy Blair at $55,069 ($3,000 less than elected county officials, as was practice in the past).

Including FICA, this total increase was just over $18,000. But the real news was approval of another $211,000 for salary and personnel increases to six elected officials.

The drama began when commission turned down these officials' requested increases at its July meeting. Assessor (and countymayor-elect) Doyle Arp, Clerk & Master Fred Chaney, County Clerk Riley Wampler, Trustee Estelle Herron, Circuit Clerk Lisa Niles and Sheriff Tim Guider threatened to invoke a state law that allows them to sue commission for more budget money.

Commissioners Nancy Marcus, Bob Franke, David Meers and Chuck Jenkins met with Blair and Miller as the budget committee Aug. 4, so each elected official could explain their request.

All wanted to hire more people or increase some staff salaries to even up the pay scale. (In the past, rather than approve individual raises, commission budgeted each officeholder a lump sum to distribute as they saw fit. This has, however, led to disparities in salary over the years.)

If I gave you gritty details, I could fill this newspaper page, so I'll sum up: Commissioners wanted to avoid the cost of lawsuits they suspected they'd lose, so they increased the 2006-07 budget for some requests.

This gave elected officials' chief deputies equal pay of almost $35,000, funded some employee raises (in all fairness, Wampler and Chaney were denied in 2005, and promised increases in 2006) and will hire five new employees for Herron, Niles (one each) and Guider. Commission also approved $50,000 for two new patrol cars.

With rare exception, Shaver and Commissioner Earlena Maples voted against the increases, but they weren't the only two who protested. Maples reminded officials this is funded by taxpayers, some of whom make much less than those getting the raises.

Shaver, who usually shows fiscal conservation and a flair for turn of phrase, put both to use. "Do you notice a pattern here?" he asked. "They come in and shoot for the moon, and if they fall short on the woodpile - they still come out ahead."