VOL. 128 | NO. 225 | Monday, November 18, 2013
Commission Considers County Pay Raises
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Commissioners take up proposed pay raises Monday, Nov. 18, for the offices of Shelby County mayor, Shelby County sheriff and four other countywide elected officials.
The commission votes on the first of three readings, which also includes an ordinance to keep the pay of Shelby County Commissioners at $29,100 a year.
The commission meets at 1:30 p.m. at the Vasco Smith County Administration Building, 160 N. Main St.
Follow the meeting at @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols.
Two of the three ordinances set the salaries for the term of office that begins Sept. 1, 2014, for those elected in the August county general elections. That is the case with the offices of mayor, sheriff and Shelby County Commission.
The third ordinance sets the salaries of county trustee, register, county clerk and assessor. The four offices became offices under the county charter instead of the Tennessee Constitution with county charter changes voters approved in 2008. However, if county employees get a pay raise after the 2014 elections but before the 2018 county elections, so do the holders of those four offices unless the County Commission’s budget resolution specifically says they don’t.
County Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy and his staff, independent of the current officeholders, proposed the raises.
“We think it’s important to ignore the individuals and the jobs they are doing, but look at the job itself,” Kennedy told commissioners in committee sessions earlier this month.
Kennedy recommended boosting the mayor’s annual pay from $144,500 to $150,000 and the sheriff’s pay from $115,000 to $131,325.
He also recommended boosting the pay of the four other elected offices from $107,925 a year to $113,624.
In committee, neither recommendation had a majority of votes. In the same committee sessions, most of the commissioners recommended approving keeping the commission’s pay the same.
County Trustee David Lenoir indicated to commissioners that he did not think the trustee’s pay should be raised. The other three current officeholders involved did not express an opinion when Kennedy asked them for one.
And Kennedy said Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell did not take a position on the pay raise recommended by Kennedy and his staff.
“I’d like to make it clear the mayor is not getting involved in this,” Kennedy said in committee sessions. “We are trying to do what is right.”
“Since you brought it up,” replied Commissioner Terry Roland, “Who do you work for? The mayor. To say the mayor’s not involved in this is kind of a half-truth.”
Lenoir and Luttrell are running for re-election in 2014.
“I can’t believe the mayor’s not going to run for re-election if he doesn’t get $150,000,” Roland said. “I challenge the mayor to be a leader and say $140,000 is enough. It ain’t about our back pocket.”
Commissioner Henri Brooks took a different view, particularly about Lenoir’s objection.
“He is not the heir apparent. It’s not guaranteed he is going to be there,” she said. “What we’re doing now is looking at the individual. … Even though he’s rich, the next person would probably like to have a larger salary. … It’s a lot of work.”
Commissioner Heidi Shafer said the argument made by Brooks and others made it seem as if the six-figure salaries were “poverty wages.”
“The governor of Tennessee makes $170,000 and he governs the whole state,” she added. “We’re not done yet in right-sizing our salaries and our government.”
Commissioner Melvin Burgess said raising the salaries of elected officials goes to retaining talent in the city.
“We’ve got to try to attract our young folks to keep them at home,” he said. “It’s OK money. But you talk about kids coming out of college with master’s degrees, it’s not no money.”
“If somebody is running for the money involved, we don’t need them,” Roland countered. “They are running for the wrong reason.”
The commission has until the end of the calendar year to set the salaries if they want to increase them. If they take no action on the ordinances, the salaries remain the same.
The commission will also vote Monday on a resolution by Commissioner Chris Thomas to withdraw the commission’s third-party complaint in U.S. District Court contesting the constitutionality of suburban school districts.
Some commissioners say dropping the legal challenge now would affect the set of negotiations between Shelby County Schools and suburban leaders in each town and city over building leases and attendance zones.
Some suburban leaders have said they intend to link an agreement on the leases and attendance zones to some kind of agreement that the commission will drop the legal action at the same time.