Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond hired his son this week as the department's full-time webmaster at a salary range of $44,236 to $66,354 a year.
Several Hamilton County commissioners aren't happy about the job for Jimi Hammond. Last month, seven commissioners refused to give Hammond extra money to fill his second consecutive annual budget gap.
Jimi Hammond first was hired in June 2010 as part-time webmaster at $35 an hour. The position was not listed in the sheriff's 2012 or 2013 budget requests. Commissioners first made an issue of Jimi Hammond's employment in May 2011, when they were working on the 2012 budget.
On Thursday, Commission Chairman Larry Henry learned from the Chattanooga Times Free Press that Hammond had hired his son.
"Nepotism has always been kind of a problem from a personnel standpoint," Henry said. "This would account for some of the problems the sheriff's got."
Tennessee law doesn't prohibit nepotism, but Hamilton County general government has an anti-nepotism policy that some offices, though not the sheriff's, have voted to comply with.
The sheriff substituted the webmaster position for another job in his information technology division -- senior programmer, which is vacant after one employee left and one transferred to a different position. Then he announced vacancies in the webmaster job and three other positions only within the department. The others are jail chaplain, corrections officer and school resource officer.
"We have qualified personnel within the HCSO, so they are given first opportunity before we advertise externally," Director of Administration Don Gorman said Wednesday in an emailed statement. "If we have no qualified personnel for positions, or no one applies from within, we then go externally with our advertisements."
Jimi Hammond was the only applicant for the webmaster position, Gorman said.
"The sheriff, based on my request, decided to substitute the webmaster position, which was approved by the Civil Service Board over two years ago, in lieu of the senior programmer position," Gorman said in his statement. "They are very similar in duties, and the webmaster is a salary range 53 ($44,236-$66,354.00), which will save us money compared to the senior programmer position which was salary range 54 ($45,342-$68,013)."
Sheriff's administrators made the internal job announcement June 27, the day before commissioners approved the 2013 budget and one week after they refused to approve $275,000 to cover a projected 2012 deficit in the sheriff's budget.
Between overspending and projected revenue shortage of about $400,000, the sheriff's budget may not comply with state law, which requires him to spend only what is approved by county commissioners.
"What we've got to wait on is to see what the state comptroller has in his letter, and if he doesn't ask for [an audit], we will," commission Finance Committee Chairman Fred Skillern said Thursday.
Commissioner Mitch McClure, who is chairman of the Security and Corrections Committee, was concerned that the webmaster position wasn't in the sheriff's budget.
"My concern is the appearance that it gives to the taxpayers of nepotism and the appearance that it gives during a time that the sheriff's office budget is not in compliance with the budgetary process," McClure said.
The new jail chaplain will be John Waters, who was also the only applicant. He'd also been working part time for the sheriff's office. The position was in this year's budget request and listed a salary of $39,520.
The budget also listed six corrections officer vacancies. The job announcement for those positions lists jail chaplain at $34,557 to $51,836 a year and corrections officers at $32,090 to $48,135 a year.
The school resource officer position will fill a vacancy, Gorman said Thursday.
All the new hires will be paid at the bottom of the listed ranges, Gorman said.
Most patrol sergeants make about $45,000 a year, while deputies' salaries begin at about $35,000, according to budget documents.