Two former Soddy-Daisy commissioners who recently lost re-election received about $33,000 in pay they had chosen not to accept while in office.
The city had to dip into its reserve funds to pay former commissioners Bob Privett and David Skiles, said Commissioner Gene Shipley. The issue has "stirred up a hornet's nest" in the community, he said.
As of last week and after advice from the city's attorney, Soddy-Daisy commissioners now must take the small monthly salaries they have declined for 41 years, but some city officials said they'd like to do away with the salaries.
Soddy-Daisy's municipal code states commissioners are to receive $300 a month, while the mayor receives $350.
Last week, the city paid Privett and Skiles about $33,000. Privett received $20,150 after taxes and Skiles received $13,233. The city withheld $9,566 for federal taxes, according to city records.
Both were defeated in the Nov. 2 elections.
The compensation only covered six years of back pay because there's a statute of limitation on how many years the commissioners could claim, according to a letter from city attorney Sam Elliott. Privett had served on the commission since 1998. Skiles had served four years, Elliott said.
Skiles declined to comment.
Privett said he plans to donate the money to charity.
"I can control where this money goes," Privett said. "I make contributions to St. Jude and the Shriners each year as well as other local organizations."
Privett also had a message for people who might not like his decision to ask for back pay: Get over it.
"The election is over. The most popular people won," Privett said. "It's time to move on with life."
Before losing their re-election bids, both Skiles and Privett were embroiled in a controversy over the city's decision to extend health insurance benefits to city commissioners, an uncommon arrangement for Hamilton County's smaller municipalities.
Both are still on the city's insurance but are paying the full cost, according to city recorder Sara Burris. Both are on the employee-plus-one plan, she said, which costs $7,239 per year for each.
During the Nov. 18 board of commissioners meeting, attorney Elliott said he had consulted with the Tennessee Municipal Technical Advisory Service about the salary issue. MTAS said public officials can't perform their duties for free if a salary is available because it could be seen as paying for votes, Elliott told the commission.
On Tuesday, Elliott said he's advising all commissioners to take the compensation to avoid a similar situation in the future.
Shipley and Mayor Jim Adams said there have been discussions about doing away with pay for commissioners.
Adams said if commissioners do remove compensation, it could only take effect at the end of a four-year election cycle.
Shipley said commissioners traditionally did not take compensation out of respect to Soddy-Daisy's volunteer fire department, whose members worked for free.
"As long as we had a volunteer fire department, the commission never felt right taking a salary," he said.
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 ...