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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Tim Boyd is shown at the Hamilton County Commission meeting on February 12, 2020.

The Hamilton County Commission on Tuesday delayed action on a proposal that would prohibit the use of county funds to pay immediate family members of the sheriff, district attorney and other offices set out in the state constitution.

Commissioners voted 7-1 to table the proposal by Commissioner Tim Boyd, R-East Brainerd, until June 2. Boyd was the lone dissenting vote on the delay, and Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, R-Soddy-Daisy, was absent.

"I think that it is something that ought to be discussed during budget time, not during a political season," said Commissioner Greg Martin, R-Hixson, who made the motion to table the resolution for later discussion.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County commissioner proposes prohibiting county funds to pay salaries of constitutional officers' family members)

The resolution would not prevent family members from being employed by one of the constitutional officers — a group that includes positions such as the county clerk, judges and public defender. Instead, the measure prohibits county funding of such a position. If the measure becomes law, the officials would have to pay for the salary of a family member working under them using donations or state or federal funds.

Apparently, only two county employees would be affected — both of whom work in the district attorney's office.

Boyd had already asked the commission to delay the vote until Feb. 1 as he and the county attorney iron out the resolution's language to avoid any conflict with state statutes, he said during Wednesday's meeting.

"What is the difference between the political atmosphere now and the political atmosphere in May during budget time?" Boyd said. "All you are doing is — you're passing the primaries and you're in the general election."

Boyd noted that since proposing the legislation last week, he has been called "vindictive" toward District Attorney Neal Pinkston. Pinkston has previously 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 release of damaging information if the person did not withdraw.

Boyd denies acting out of animus, adding he's just trying to ensure that county funds are spent fairly.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County DA appears before commission, keeps funding)

Last year, Boyd proposed a resolution to cut supplemental county funding for the district attorney's office, which also uses state funds, an effort that did not succeed.

Questions first arose about whether Pinkston was employing relatives using county funds during a routine budget hearing in May. At that time, Pinkston said he was not.

The Times Free Press later reported that the district attorney married a subordinate, Melydia Clewell, in 2019 and hired her brother, Kerry Clewell, in 2020.

To avoid potentially breaking state nepotism law, Pinkston, whose office receives both state and county funding, transferred Clewell to the county payroll in August 2021 and Kerry Clewell the following month. Both were given raises.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County DA opponents Pinkston, Wamp clash at first event together)

Shortly afterward, Boyd's proposal to cut funding to the district attorney's office was dropped when Pinkston appeared before the commission despite initially saying he did not want to be questioned about relatives on his payroll.

After Wednesday's meeting, Boyd questioned the timeline for his proposal, given the postponement of consideration. He said earlier consideration would give those affected more time to come into compliance before the start of the next county budget year on July 1.

"Now, if everything goes the way I want it to go, and it's approved in June, those out of compliance are going to have less than 30 days," he said.

Boyd and the commission office put out a notice to the offices of all 26 officials whose positions are laid out in the state constitution, saying they must confirm whether they employ family members of the officials.

All of the offices have reported back, with the district attorney's office being last to respond, which was on Friday, Boyd said.

The two affected employees in the office were not named in the response, he added.

Sheriff Jim Hammond last week said his son, Jimi Hammond, who works as manager of the sheriff's office's IT team, would also be affected by the measure.

However, Boyd clarified Wednesday that the sheriff's office hires through civil service and has its own nepotism standards, therefore excluding it from the law.

In addition to the sheriff's office, the county trustee, clerk and register of deeds would be exempt from the law because they collect fees and give any excess fees to the county's general fund, Boyd said. They do not ask for funding from the county to pay their respective payrolls.

Contact Logan Hullinger at lhullinger@timesfreepress.com or 814-319-5158. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.

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