published Friday, April 30th, 2010

County Commission approves on-call magistrates


by Dan Whisenhunt
Audio clip

Agenda session

Audio clip

Recessed meeting

Some members may not like it, but the Hamilton County Commission decided Thursday to appoint two on-call magistrates to relieve full-time workers.

The on-call magistrates will work only if full-timers are sick and they'll work only 40 hours or less per week with no overtime.

Even with those restrictions, some commissioners did not bite at the revised plan to have on-call magistrates, who preside over bond hearings. The commission approved the measure 6-3 in a recessed meeting continued from last week, with Commissioners Warren Mackey, Jim Coppinger and Richard Casavant voting "no."

The issue irritated commissioners, who said they thought scheduling problems would be resolved if they hired a fourth full-time magistrate, something they did in 2007.

"We have already approved a fourth magistrate for that very purpose," Mr. Mackey said after the meeting, saying he is concerned about the "growth creep" in the magistrate program.

The frustration over appointing the on-call magistrates led to a heated exchange between Mr. Coppinger and Chief Judicial Commissioner Larry Ables at a meeting last week.

Mr. Coppinger said this week that the program should have enough magistrates to handle the workload.

"When you start allowing for additional people, additional expenses are incurred," he said.

Mr. Ables did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

Commissioner Larry Henry, chairman of the commission's Security and Corrections Committee, said Mr. Ables must report to him if he needs to use a part-time worker.

In other business, the commission approved giving $266,000 to East Hamilton School, Signal Mountain Middle-High School and Soddy-Daisy High School, giving each a split of the proceeds from the sale of the former Signal Mountain Middle School and its property.

Mr. Henry and Commissioner Fred Skillern said the money at East Hamilton and Soddy-Daisy would build softball fields because parents had raised the issue of the schools' compliance with Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education.

Greg Waters, assistant superintendent of auxiliary services for the school system, said the county school board still must approve giving the money to schools. He said the school board has not identified how it will spend the money.

At its next regular meeting on May 5, the commission likely will apply for a $144,195 grant to assist with a $1.7 million expansion by Southern Tool Steel, which is expected to create 25 jobs within a year of completion.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Commission debates magistrate plan

Article: Lasley out; Lloyd chosen as magistrate

Article: County commissioners decline to extend magistrate contracts

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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