published Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Chattooga County, Ga., sole commissioner pushes five 'unpaid holidays' for elected officials

 Jason Winters
Jason Winters
Mike O'Neal

Chattooga County, Ga., Sole Commissioner Jason Winters wants to cut expenses by giving all county employees five new unpaid holidays.

Including himself.

"I'm the only [elected official] who signed up, so far," Winters said Tuesday.

He hasn't given up trying to persuade other elected officials to follow suit.

Winters spent about 90 minutes Tuesday morning meeting with elected officials about his proposal to close county offices on five Fridays and not pay employees.

He figures the cost-saving measure will minimally impact customers since aside from one "random Friday" -- Oct. 25 -- the unpaid Fridays will come when offices are closed anyway: Labor Day, Christmas Eve, the day after Thanksgiving and July 5.

Elected officials reluctantly went along with the recent July 5 closure of all county offices, after bristling at the idea of the unpaid furloughs.

"I do not understand how closing the elected officials' offices while clearly being required to pay the employees their regular salary is of benefit to the taxpayers of Chattooga County," county Chief Magistrate Judge T.L. Maddux wrote in a June 26 letter to Winters.

But Winters said elected officials can reduce employees' salaries -- including their own -- to reflect fewer days worked.

Sheriff Mark Schrader wrote on June 28 that his office wouldn't participate.

"I have lost five trained and experienced deputies to other agencies for better pay and benefits," the sheriff stated.

Summerville, Ga., attorney Albert Palmour sent a July 3 message to Winters stating the elected officials asked him to file suit if the unpaid holidays went through.

Winters said after Tuesday's meeting that he thought the elected officials would consent to the furlough days.

"I don't see litigation being an issue," Winters said.

As sole commissioner, Winters said, he has the authority to set elected officials' budgets and make amendments as needed.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@times freepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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