published Friday, May 4th, 2012

Hamilton County appeals sergeants' pay lawsuit

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    Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks to the media in this file photo.
    Staff File Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press

An appeal filed with the Tennessee Supreme Court questions whether the local Civil Service Advisory Board has the power to make decisions over employee salaries.

The question arises from a lawsuit between Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and some of his sergeants.

Hammond confirmed Thursday that the appeal had been filed and referred questions to the county attorney.

Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor could not be reached for comment.

But county attorney R. Dee Hobbs argued in the 13-page appeal that the Appeals Court ruling gives the board power that's not authorized under the law.

Sheriff Sgts. Chris Harvey, Ricky Jones, Mark King, Mark Kimsey, Mark Williams and Jody Mays filed a grievance because their salaries ranged from $43,867 to $49,840. The grievance sent the dispute to the Civil Service Advisory Board, which directed the sheriff to equalize pay among those ranked sergeant.

Department officials said it would cost the sheriff's office $74,596 more annually if all sergeants were paid at the highest sergeant's pay.

Hammond sought a review of law by the Hamilton County Chancery Court, which concluded that the board wasn't authorized to make the decision.

In response to the grievance, Hammond raised the minimum salary range from $43,000 to $45,000, according to the appeal.

Hammond worried that the ruling might eventually lead to other ranks wanting equalized pay and to achieve that goal he said he'd have to lower pay with some lateral promotions in the department.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled in February that the case be sent back to the Civil Service Advisory Board. The opinion said Hammond should take "necessary steps to eliminate the disparity," but left the method of achieving that goal to the sheriff.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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