Budget committee approves raise for Mayor’s assistant

Published 8:50 am Friday, June 3, 2016

Budget Committee
In a 5-3 split decision, members of the Carter County Budget Committee approved an $8,788 raise for County Mayor Leon Humphrey’s assistant.
Humphrey had previously requested a raise of more than $18,000 for Susan Robinson and told the committee he was reclassifying her position from “administrative assistant” to “Economic Development Director.”
On Tuesday, the budget committee rejected the mayor’s budget as presented and cut his allocations so the proposed raise would not be supported by funding. The committee asked Humphrey to rework his budget to balance it using the funding which was approved by the committee. Humphrey told the committee on Tuesday that he would not rework his budget and his request would not change, however on Thursday night, he presented an amended budget request.
“What I originally requested was probably from your perspective unreasonable but from my perspective it was not,” Humphrey said. “I am going to extend an olive branch and we are going to propose a compromise.”
The compromise Humphrey presented was setting the salary for Robinson at $40,000. This is $10,000 less than his original request but still an increase over her current salary, which is just over $31,212.
“I think it’s a reasonable request and I am extending it in good faith,” Humphrey said.
He issued a plea to the committee to consider the salary increase for Robinson as a step in the right direction to supporting economic development for Carter County.
He pointed to the county’s recent approval of an interlocal agreement with the City of Elizabethton, City of Watauga. and City of Johnson City to create a new Joint Economic and Community Development Board to bring those entities into compliance with state law in order to be eligible for grant funding. If the agreement is approved by the City of Johnson City the new JECDB would have 11 members that would discuss matters of economic development but would have no funding so as to avoid a costly audit, Humphrey said.
“With this board having no funding, there is going to have to be someone in place to do the paperwork and applications,” Humphrey said. “Someone has to do it.” Those duties would fall on Robinson as the county’s economic development director, Humphrey said.
Some members of the committee questioned if the budget committee had the authority to create a new county position since Humphrey was proposing reclassifying Robinson’s position.
“If Carter County is to have an economic development director, if I’m not mistaken, I believe that position has to come before the full Commission,” Budget Committee Chairwoman Sonja Culler said.
Humphrey said that was not his “interpretation” of the law.
“It’s up to the Mayor and each elected official to determine the needs of their office,” Humphrey said.
The committee’s Vice Chairman, Buford Peters, agreed with Culler.
“We can’t vote to create a new position,” Peters said. “That is out of our scope.”
One committee member challenged the proposed raise, saying it was unfair to other county employees.
“The Carter County Commission has not given the employees of this county a raise in seven years,” L.C. Tester said. “Why do you think one person is worth that amount of a raise? It would be an insult to all the county employees.”
“No one is worth that much of a raise,” he added. Tester is a lieutenant with the Carter County Sheriff’s Office.
“This is not a raise,” Humphrey said in response to Tester. “It will still be an hourly non-exempt position.”
Under Humphrey’s original proposal, Robinson would have been classified as an exempt salaried position, which means the county would not be required to compensate her for any additional hours worked over 40 per week. At the $40,000 salary approved by the committee, Robinson will not be eligible for exempt status and the county will have to either pay her overtime or provide her with “comp time” hours which she can use like vacation time.
Humphrey previously told the committee that Robinson has accrued the maximum number of comp time hours allowed because she routinely works 55 hours or more per week. With the new job designation as economic development director, Humphrey said he did not expect her to work less hours in the future than she does now.
“I am asking for a spirit of cooperation,”Humphrey told the committee in his final plea. “We can work together or we can be a splintered faction and have gridlock between the Mayor and the Commission for the next two years.”
Committee member John Lewis made a motion to accept the budget for the Mayor’s Office as re-presented to the committee, which was then seconded by Committee member Ronnie Trivett.
The motion passed on a vote of 5-3 with committee members Lewis, Trivett, Nancy Brown, Robert Carroll and Ross Garland voting in favor. Committee members Culler, Peters and Tester opposed the amended budget.

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