Ties to sheriff pay off for 'Friends of Jim'

Ties to sheriff pay off for 'Friends of Jim'

May 13th, 2012 by Ansley Haman in News

Hamilton County sheriff Jim Hammond

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

WHY IT MATTERS

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond is asking for a $1.85 million budget increase for next year. And he confirmed Friday that he probably will have to ask commissioners for extra money this year because, for the second year in a row, he'll spend more than his budget.

It pays to be a friend of Jim.

Or relative. Or campaign donor. Or neighbor.

"Friends of Jim" is the unofficial name for a group of part-time Hamilton County Sheriff's Office employees who have ties to Sheriff Jim Hammond and are paid off the books.

Since Hammond took office in September 2008, he has hired a number of part-time employees who don't appear in the budgets he submits annually to the Hamilton County Commission. When a commissioner asked him Monday how many part-time employees the office has, Hammond said 30.

Among those are the handful known as "Friends of Jim."

"I'm an elected official who was given the job of protecting this county," Hammond said Friday. "Any elected official surrounds himself with a team he can count on."

Records requested by the Chattanooga Times Free Press show that the office had spent $324,259 on those 30 part-time employees between July 1, 2011, and May 1 this year.

The sheriff's budget, as approved by commissioners, officially allocated only $145,000 for part-time employees in two specific categories -- $125,000 for school crossing guards and $20,000 for one part-time information technology position. Through the end of April, 11 employees in those two categories cost the county only $103,453.

The other 19 part-timers, including some "Friends of Jim," are spread throughout other departments in the sheriff's office. The sheriff's office pays the remainder of the part-time employees out of money budgeted for other vacant positions, said Director of Administration Don Gorman.

THE SON

The highest-paid part-time employee is Hammond's son, who makes $35 an hour as the office's webmaster and videographer.

Jimi Hammond earned $32,540 from the county since the fiscal year began July 1.

"The going rate for a webmaster is about $100 an hour," Hammond said, pointing to what Chattanooga spent recently while designing a new $128,000 site. "If you go on our website and see all that film work at the top, he does that."

Though Jimi Hammond has worked for the county since 2010, his job and name don't appear among the staff members listed in the fiscal 2012 and 2013 budget requests.

The county's information services division has five full-time positions and another part-time position.

There's no allocation in the information systems budget for a webmaster, though commissioners last year approved a new position with a $45,000 salary. This year's request shows that the position never was filled.

When asked about the unfilled vacancy, Hammond said, "I don't think that was funded."

Commissioners last year also approved $20,000 for a part-time IT position that was listed in the budget request as "vacant," even though Joseph Daniel Marr had been holding the position since 2008, when he was hired by former Sheriff Billy Long.

Hammond said he doesn't pay attention to specific line items in the budget and doesn't know why Marr's name wasn't listed.

THE CAMPAIGN DONOR

From February 2009 until April, the sheriff's office has paid James Sheets to coordinate the department's all-volunteer reserve officers.

"It probably saved the county $300,000 a year," Hammond said of the program that trains volunteer officers, some of whom ride patrols and work events. "I reinstated the reserves knowing we were short on manpower."

Sheets served as a reserve officer decades ago, and he donated $2,000 to Hammond over the 2008 and 2010 election cycles.

Hammond said that after he was elected, Sheets called and said, "I'd like to come back and do reserves again."

Hammond told Sheets he wanted him to run the program. Sheets got a paycheck, a county take-home car and a cellphone. At $12.05 an hour, Sheets earned $7,360 this year. He resigned in April.

"The vehicle he is assigned is one of the oldest in the fleet, a 2000 Crown Victoria with 154,100 miles on it," Gorman wrote in an email. "The vehicle is used only for HCSO functions and only used 12.4 gallons ($38.52) of fuel last month and 14.4 gallons ($43.17) for the month of March."

Hamilton County Commissioner Jim Fields on Monday asked Hammond about the part-time employees.

"Do we permit any benefits to part-time employees?" Fields asked.

"We do not," Hammond said. "They do not get any fringe benefits."

But Sheets' replacement, Morty Lloyd, son of former Congresswoman Marilyn Lloyd, still has a take-home car and cellphone. The department hired Lloyd on April 17 at the same pay Sheets received.

THE NEIGHBOR

Donald Klasing, a three-time Hammond campaign donor, has worked since January 2009 coordinating a volunteer program for the information booth in the City/County Courts Building.

Hammond said Friday that Klasing is a neighbor who asked him in late 2008 about volunteering at the county courts building.

"The biggest problem we've had in the past is that people wander into the building and a lot of times they'll end up in the wrong courtroom," Hammond said.

The sheriff pays Klasing $15 an hour for 20 hours a week to manage volunteers who man the booth. As of May 1, Klasing had earned $12,654 from the county so far this fiscal year.

Election records show Klasing donated $500 to Hammond's 2008 campaign and $500 to his 2010 campaign.

THE FRIEND

When Hammond was in the Middle East from 2003 to 2006, helping train law enforcement officers, Paul Hutchings worked for him.

"He was training Iraqis in firearms training," Hammond said. "He actually came to Chattanooga looking for work."

Now Hutchings is helping to head the department's effort to become accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement.

He took a part-time post with the department in October 2010 and recently moved to full-time in a corrections position. Hutchings makes $17.03 an hour and has earned $24,271 so far this fiscal year.

Gorman said he isn't listed in the corrections budget because the hire was so recent.

TRANSPORTS

Last year Hammond requested a part-time fugitive transport budget of $115,000, but commissioners didn't approve it.

Nonetheless, when he justified his part-time employees to them Monday, he said, "A lot of those who are part-time are those who are certified and retired."

Once an officer has been retired for 90 days, he or she may come back for up to 20 hours a week to help transport fugitives or sick or mentally ill inmates, Hammond said Friday.

Eight of the 30 part-time employees are listed under fugitive transport. By May 1, they had earned a combined $68,425.

THE OTHERS

Caitlin Maddux is an example of someone Hammond didn't know before he hired her, the sheriff said Friday. She's a records clerk who makes $10.65 an hour. She has earned $13,673 so far this year.

"I had never met her, didn't know her," Hammond said.

Another part-timer, John Waters, serves as jail chaplain and has helped put out the department's newsletter, Roll Call, since September 2008. He makes $19 an hour and has earned $11,367 this year.

Curtis A. Henderson works in the fugitives department and makes $17 an hour, totaling $15,014 this fiscal year.

"His whole responsibility is to go through those thousands of warrants," Hammond said.

The active warrants are kept in the fugitives department.

John Allen Scruggs has worked part-time in criminal investigations since June 2009. He makes $14.68 an hour, for a total of $13,790 this year.

Jerry Redman is paid $14.68 an hour as the department's career development officer, and he has made $9,964 this fiscal year.

"His goal is to teach ethics, character and leadership development to my command staff," Hammond said of Redman's role.

Redman recently conducted a blind survey to rate command staff, Hammond said.

"[The survey] wasn't very popular," Hammond said. "I came in next to last."