Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd introduced a resolution Wednesday to withhold certain county funding from District Attorney Neal Pinkston's office over ongoing nepotism concerns.
The resolution would withhold the funding unless Pinkston appears before the commission to address the issue or removes his wife, Melydia Clewell, and her brother, Kerry Clewell, from the county payroll.
Boyd has been in a monthslong battle with Pinkston, who employs Melydia Clewell as his chief of staff and Kerry Clewell as an investigator. Commissioners said they have asked him "numerous times" to come before them and explain the salary situation. Pinkston has so far declined to do so.
"The commission has no subpoena authority, but we do have the authority of the pocketbook," Boyd, R-Chattanooga, said Wednesday. "The only recourse this commission has is to suspend the previously portioned funding until the district attorney either appears before us with answers for his action or removes his relatives from being paid with county funds."
Boyd has said in previous meetings that he believes it is the "fiduciary responsibility" of the commission to review what happens with taxpayer dollars.
"We as a commission told our constituents in passing the budget that their funds would not be used to pay for his relatives' salaries," he said earlier this month.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the resolution next week at their Wednesday meeting.
The question of whether Pinkston was employing relatives was first raised during a routine budget hearing in May. At that time, Pinkston said he was not.
Later, the Times Free Press reported that Pinkston had married a subordinate in a neighboring county, not raising public notice, and hired her brother.
The DA's office has state and county funding alike, and Pinkston has taken some heat from state and county officials about the situation.
To avoid a state law against state employees supervising their own relatives, he transferred Melydia Clewell to the county payroll in August and Kerry Clewell in September. Both got raises.
Melydia Clewell's raise was from $87,948 a year to $91,000. Kerry Clewell's was from $48,992 to $50,600 a year.
When asked about the changes in payroll, state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said the matter was "under investigation." He said he could not say who was investigating it.
"This is a blatant assault on the people's trust in the DA's department and a slap in the commission's face after telling the commissioners that 'no' county funds would be used to pay his relatives when he appeared before the commission on May 12, 2021," Boyd said in an email to his colleagues earlier this month.
On Wednesday, he again blasted Pinkston for failing to come forward to answer questions related to the issue, stating that the public expects community leaders to be "deliberate" and "appropriate" in how they deal with taxpayer funds.
"It's a simple thing," Boyd said. "Come before us to answer for your actions or lose county funding."
Pinkston has repeatedly over the last three months declined to discuss the matter or answer questions from the newspaper related to it. In May, he released a statement defending his actions as legally and ethically sound.
"I will continue to serve the people of the 11th Judicial District with integrity and diligence," the statement said. "This will be the only statement I make on this matter."
Pinkston also accused Boyd of pursuing the issue in retaliation for a 2018 extortion indictment brought by Pinkston against Boyd that later was dismissed. The extortion case claimed Boyd tried to threaten a political rival with the release of damaging information if the person did not withdraw.
In the statement, Pinkston also announced he will seek re-election after his eight-year term expires in 2022.
Contact Kelcey Caulder at email@example.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.