Mayor tells committee they have ‘no authority’ to question raise
Published 10:11 am Friday, May 20, 2016
Discussion turned heated during a county budget workshop session Thursday evening when Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey accused committee members of “overstepping” their bounds by questioning his request for an $18,000 raise for his administrative assistant.
Earlier this month, when Humphrey presented his budget request to the committee he included the raise for his administrative assistant Susan Robinson, which would bump her salary up to around $50,000 per year. In his explanation to the committee, Humphrey said Robinson would be taking on additional duties within his office, including work on economic and community development for the county. The committee asked the mayor to develop a job description for what the duties of Robinson’s position would be and come back before the committee to discuss the pay increase.
On Thursday evening, Humphrey presented the committee members with copies of the job description for the position he said Robinson will be taking on. According to the information Humphrey presented the committee, Robinson would be reclassified as “Economic Development Director” in the “Carter County’s Mayor’s Office of Economic Development.” At the previous workshop session, when Budget Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler asked Humphrey to clarify if Robinson’s position was as administrative assistant or economic developer Humphrey told the committee her position was as administrative assistant.
Humphrey read the job description to members of the committee highlighting the duties and responsibilities the position of “Economic Development Director” would entail as well as a description of the nature of the work Robinson would be performing. Among the duties were working to promote Carter County to potential business and industries. The director would also work with site selectors, existing businesses and new businesses in promoting the business and economic development interests within Carter County.
The director would also be responsible for directing the “County Mayor’s office’s economic development initiative to achieve the goals and objectives outlined by the County Mayor’s office’s Economic Development Plan to be developed by the Director and approved by the Mayor,” Humphrey said. The Economic Development Director would report directly to the County Mayor under the job description provided by Humphrey.
After Humphrey provided the job description to the committee, Culler said she felt creating the position of Economic Development Director might be a matter for the full Carter County Commission to address since it would be creating a completely new position for the county. Culler also cited the possible creation of a new Joint Economic and Community Development Board if Johnson City signs off on the inter-local agreement which has already been approved by the county, the City of Elizabethton and the City of Watauga.
“We have a new economic development board that is about to begin and I think they would like a say in who is hired,” Culler said.
Humphrey told the committee that if it is formed the new JECDB will not have any hiring authority because it will not have any funding. The purpose of the new JECDB is solely to qualify for procuring grants, Humphrey said.
“The Board will handle no money and will hire no people,” Humphrey said.
Culler told Humphrey that when he presented his budget he asked for a raise for his secretary not for an economic development director. She said a salary of $50,000 for an administrative assistant was not in line with what other administrative assistants and secretaries in the county are paid.
Humphrey took issue with Culler and others on the committee questioning his decision to name Robinson as Economic Development Director for the county and increase her pay by $18,000.
“At no time has this budget committee ever challenged the sheriff on who he can hire or what he can pay them,” Humphrey said. “Folks, you are overstepping your bounds.”
In response, Culler cited state law in Tennessee Code Annotated (T.C.A.) 5-6-116 which is labeled “Clerical Assistants” and states “The county mayor for each county may employ one (1) or more clerical assistants as may be necessary for the performance of the county mayor’s official duties. The county mayor shall establish the compensation of any such assistant within the amount appropriated for such purpose by the county legislative body.”
Culler said state law provided that Humphrey could set his employee’s salary within the bounds of the funds provided to him by the county for the purpose of the salary.
Humphrey said the state statute quoted by Culler gives him the authority to hire whomever he sees fit and set their salary at what he feels is appropriate. Humphrey went on to quote a state statute of his own, citing T.C.A. 5-21-123, which has two parts: “(a) Notwithstanding any provision of this chapter, each department, agency or official shall have the authority to hire personnel and set salaries and to determine the needs for its use, all subject to budget limitations and the availability of funds. (b) The authority of the committee, director or purchasing agent shall be limited to this chapter and such policies necessary to implement this chapter. They shall not have the authority to veto the hiring and dismissal of personnel of the various county departments, agencies or officials or set salaries or determine the needs of such departments.”
Humphrey said under that state statute, the budget committee did not have the power to question his naming Robinson as Economic Development Director or to question what he set her salary at.
“It’s not within your authority,” Humphrey said.
Following that comment from Humphrey, committee member Buford Peters had a question for the mayor.
“So, what you’re saying, Mr. Mayor, is that you are going to do what you want to do no matter what we say, is that right?” Peters asked. “That’s the impression I’m getting.”
Humphrey replied that he had approached the committee with his request and was “transparent” about what the additional funding was for regarding the raise. Humphrey said the funds were available and were within his balanced budget request. Humphrey said reallocated line items from within his own budget and within the buildings and grounds budget he oversees in order to fund the raise for Robinson without asking for an increase in funds from the county.
Committee member John Lewis said he felt some members of the committee were in opposition to the raise for Robinson because they had some grudge against Humphrey.
“I don’t have anything against Ms. Robinson personally. I think she’s done a great job on the things the Mayor has asked her to do,” Culler said. “I don’t think she was hired to do economic development and I don’t think $50,000 is appropriate for a secretary.”
Thursday evening marked the last budget workshop session for the budget year. Now the committee will move on to voting meetings as they work to has out the details of the county’s budget for the fiscal year. The following dates have been set for budget voting meetings, all of which will be held at the Carter County Courthouse and all meetings will start at 6 p.m.: tonight (May 20), May 31 and June 2. The public hearing for the budget has been set for 5 p.m. on June 16 at the Courthouse. If the schedule holds, the budget will be presented to the full Commission during their July meeting.