Officer in personnel policy dispute gets rank, no backpay

Published 9:23 am Thursday, April 7, 2016

City of Elizabethton

After being granted and then denied a raise in pay and rank, an Elizabethton police officer was granted the raise this week. However, he will not receive a year of backpay, which he had expected based on conversation with Police Chief Greg Workman and City Manager Jerome Kitchens.

Corporal Matt Taylor applied for the raise in November 2015 after discussion with Chief Workman. According to a memorandum filed by Taylor in December, they had agreed that he met the requirements outlined in the police department’s job description, and Workman filed documents for the raise. Days after receiving verbal approval from Kitchens and Workman, his request was denied due to a discrepancy between city and police department personnel policies.

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The Elizabethton Police Department (EPD) job description requires either six years of experience with the department or a combination of years of experience and accomplishments to total six years of experience in order to receive the raise and rank of corporal. The city’s classification requires six years of experience and accomplishments.

“Matt Taylor reached his six-year mark on Monday and has applied again for the raise, but he won’t get backpay,” said Kitchens. “I signed off on it on April 4.”

Taylor had five and a half years of experience with the EPD as well as previous training as an EMT when he applied for the raise. He anticipated receiving the raise in rank and pay as well as about $2,000 in backpay.

When the discrepancy in the employee merit system became apparent, Kitchens rescinded his approval.

The issue went before the Personnel Advisory Board on January 5, and its members advised that Officer Taylor receive the raise and rank of Corporal.

Upon further review by Assistant City Attorney Charleton DeVault, the board rescinded its previous advice to grant the raise, because new information came to light. The city’s employee merit system, which details job classifications, pay and related documents, had never been properly approved as ordinance by the City Council, as required by state law and city charter. DeVault explained to the Personnel Advisory Board on February 12 that the formerly approved merit system documents did not include the rank of corporal or description of the process by which an officer becomes corporal. 

On Monday, April 4, Taylor reached his six year mark with the department, and his raise was approved, as it had been for all other corporals currently with the EPD.

Chief Workman said they had all been with the department for six years, and that no one had previously applied to use five years and accomplishments for the raise in pay and rank.

“The precedent was set when it was initialized in 2006,” said Workman. “It just happened that Officer Taylor found a flaw, so when he brought that to our attention, we addressed it and tried to do what we felt was right on our end. It has come to our attention that the documents were not approved by Personnel Advisory Board.”

Though Taylor’s annual pay will increase by about $4,000, he will not receive that amount in backpay, which he had anticipated.

“He’s been professional throughout this whole process,” said Workman. “We’ve had no issues. He handles himself professionally and does a good job.”

The personnel merit system is currently under review by members of the Personnel Advisory Board. Kitchens said in two workshops, board members have reviewed police and fire documents and will continue on to review police and utilities employee standards at the next workshop.

“We’re trying to work through it as quickly as possible,” said Kitchens. “There is a lot of documentation.”

Kitchens formally apologized in a memorandum on December 7, saying he is “truly sorry he has disappointed Officer Taylor.”

Despite the inconvenience to Taylor, Personnel Advisory Board Chair Ruth Bowers said in February that it has brought an important issue to light.

Once the merit system is approved, it will be up for review annually by the Personnel Advisory Board. The next workshop is scheduled for April 12 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.