published Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Tennessee Supreme Court to hear Hamilton County sheriff's pay dispute

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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The Tennessee Supreme Court will rule on whether the Civil Service Advisory Board in Hamilton County has the power to make decisions regarding salaries for sheriff's office sergeants.

According to an order filed last week, to address some of the issues in the lawsuit between Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and some of the department's sergeants, the court has asked for a copy of the Manual of Civil Services Rules and Procedures. Although the manual and any briefs must be filed within 30 days, the case won't be heard until next year.

The manual states that: "Any employee who feels he/she has received unfair treatment in reference to pay ... or any other matter may file a grievance with management."

Dee Hobbs, an attorney representing the sheriff's office, declined to comment. Sheriff Jim Hammond said he would release a statement today, declining to comment Monday.

"It's unfortunate that the sheriff has not seen fit to resolve the pay disparity issue which was brought to his attention over two years ago," said Hal North, an attorney with Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel who represents the sergeants.

In 2010, the sergeants -- Chris Harvey, Ricky Jones, Mark King, Mark Kimsey, Mark Williams and Jody Mays -- filed a grievance that came before the advisory board, asking Hammond to equalize their pay, which ranged between $43,867 to $49,840.

The board ruled in January 2011 that the sheriff should equalize the pay among sergeants.

Hammond took the matter to the Chancery Court, which ruled that the board, which is made up of three civilians appointed to decide policy issues, did not have the authority to make the decision.

The sergeants appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which ruled in February that Hammond must equalize sergeants' pay within the department.

Officials in the sheriff's office said it would cost $74,596 more per year to equalize the salaries. They also cautioned that, if sergeants' pay was equalized, other ranks might file similar complaints.

As part of their appeal, the sheriff's office stated that the minimum salary for sergeants was increased from $43,000 to $45,000 in response to the grievance, according to newspaper archives.

Despite the raise, North said there's no valid explanation for how some sergeants earn more than others.

"There's no consistence or logic based on length of service. There's no logic based on qualifications," North said.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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