Hamilton County Commission delays vote on magistrates' unused vacation pay mistake

Hamilton County Commission delays vote on magistrates' unused vacation pay mistake

August 16th, 2018 by Staff Report in Local Regional News

Hamilton County commissioners this week put off a vote on whether to try and recover more than $30,000 wrongfully paid to magistrates for unused vacation pay.

Commissioners recently learned several former magistrates were paid for unused leave when their contracts were not renewed. That's despite specific language in the one-year contracts saying magistrates get 10 days' vacation they must use or lose.

After talking it over, commissioners expected to vote at their Wednesday meeting whether to try to recover the money from former Chief Magistrate Randy Russell (nearly $13,400) and former magistrates Nathaniel Goggins ($9,374), Sharetta Smith ($5,721) and Brandy Spurgin-Floyd ($2,918).

But Chairman Randy Fairbanks said the resolution was pulled in favor of receiving legal advice on whether and how to seek reimbursement. Commissioners were briefed by County Attorney Rheubin Taylor after their voting session.

Fairbanks said there are questions to be answered on the "legality of how things can be fixed, if they can be fixed."

Some commissioners say privately they want to go after the money but know they need to step carefully and be sure of their legal ground.

The county commission created the program in 1999 in hopes of easing jail overcrowding. Commissioners choose the four judicial commissioners — two in the spring, two in the fall, so terms are staggered — and they work on one-year, renewable contracts.

There have been issues over the years, especially complaints the program is underfunded. The vacation-pay problem was unearthed by new Chief Magistrate Lorri Miller, who was hired when commissioners decided not to renew Russell's contract this spring.

Commissioner Tim Boyd made it public last week, asking how the payouts were calculated and who approved them.

One former magistrate said she will return the wrongful payment.

Brandy Spurgin-Floyd, whose contract wasn't renewed this spring, wrote to commissioners this week asking how to do so and saying she wouldn't be a candidate for the position going forward.