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Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond

The Tennessee Court of Appeals will now take up the issue of whether the Hamilton County sheriff must equalize the pay of six sergeants.

On Monday, Chancery Court records were sent to the Court of Appeals for a case in which a chancellor ruled last month that the Hamilton County Civil Advisory Service Board did not have the authority to make Sheriff Jim Hammond equalize the salaries of six sergeants.

Hammond declined to comment on the appeal.

The sergeants -- Chris Harvey, Ricky Jones, Mark Kimsey, Mark King, Mark Williams and Jody Mays -- filed a grievance with the civil service board on Sept. 22, 2010. The board, made up of three civilian members who examine departmental grievances, ruled unanimously in January that the sergeants' pay should be equalized.

Sergeants' pay at the sheriff's office ranges between $43,867 and $49,840, according to 2009 salary data. It would cost about $80,000 to equalize the pay for the six, according to previous reports.

"Obviously, the sheriff has taken some actions to assist sergeants. He raised the pay rate of some sergeants to the average pay of all sergeants. Perhaps, he can do more in the future," Chancellor Frank Brown wrote in a July 14 opinion.

Hal North, an attorney representing the sergeants, said deputies are advised in a sheriff's office manual to take grievances to the civil service board for a ruling.

"That's what the department instructs them to do -- whether it's pay or any other type of dispute," he said. "The judge did not get into the specifics of the case at all. We think it's interesting that Dee Hobbs, the county's attorney, never said they didn't think [the civil service board] could hear this. He went forward and argued the case like we did."

In April, five people in the sheriff's office, including administrators, deputies and a secretary, received merit raises from Hammond. According to assignment slips awarding the raises, the merit increase was not explained but simply ordered by Hammond.

Patrol officers in the department have not had pay raises since 2008, although records show that in December the sheriff's office will be raising longevity pay from the current $50 per year up to 20 years to $75 per year up to 30 years for employees with at least five years service with the county.

Equalizing the pay for the sergeants could lead to other employees demanding that their pay be equalized, legal counsel representing the sheriff's office has argued. Figures show that equalizing all positions within the sheriff's office would cost about $1 million, according to prior reports.

North argued that other ranks, such as captain and lieutenant, already have been equalized by the sheriff.

"Sheriff Hammond is the one who opened up Pandora's Box," he said. "The sergeants just want to be treated equally."

It could be late winter or early spring before the Court of Appeals reaches a decision in the case, North said.

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