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Commission Vice Chairman Randy Fairbanks in a file photo

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Some former Hamilton County commissioners decline back pay

About half of the former Hamilton County Commission chairmen and vice chairmen eligible for some back pay have refused to take the money after the commission voted to adjust compensation for its leaders last week.

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor described the measure as housekeeping legislation intended to reconcile conflicts in payment policies adopted by resolution in 1990 and by memo in fiscal 2000.

The 1990 resolution called for the chairman and vice chairman to receive 40 percent and 30 percent premiums over regular commissioner pay, respectively; the 1999 memo called for the positions to instead earn an additional $5,000 and $2,500 per year. At the time of the memo, commissioner base pay amounted to $16,320, about $10,000 more than what they earned in 1990. The memo-based policy, which has been practiced for 17 years, linked commission premium pay to the increases received by the county mayor.

The new policy, sponsored by Commissioner Jim Fields, unhooks chairman and vice chairman premiums from the mayor's salary and caps them at $5,000 and $2,500. Fields' measure served as an alternative to paying those positions according to 1990 premium percentages, which would have amounted to larger chairman and vice chairman paychecks going forward in light of the current commissioner salary of $22,230.

In all, a mix of six current and former commissioners stood to make nearly $31,000 in back pay, with the county also paying an additional $2,353 in Social Security.

At the opening of the commission meeting Wednesday, County Clerk Bill Knowles announced that Mayor Jim Coppinger and Circuit Court Clerk Larry Henry — both former commission leaders — had submitted letters declining additional compensation. According to county records, Coppinger and Henry were eligible for $1,073 and $5,250, respectively.

"This letter expresses my decision to not accept said additional compensation as I do not feel that said additional compensation is deserved," Coppinger said in his letter to the county finance office.

Henry described it as a "privilege" to have served on the County Commission for 12 years, holding the post of chairman on five occasions.

Commission Chairman Chester Bankston, however, said in a phone interview he did not care what Coppinger or Henry did with their back pay; he would take the $5,318 he is due.

"Of course — it's mine," he said.

In a phone interview after the meeting, Commission Vice Chairman Randy Fairbanks said he did not want his back pay either.

"Their letters caught me by surprise," Fairbanks said. "I did not know [declining] it was an option."

Fairbanks said he would contact the county attorney and finance office to officially refuse the additional money. Records indicate the county owes him $3,280.

Fields, eligible for $6,969 in back pay, said in a phone interview he was considering whether to allocate the money to discretionary project uses within his district.

Former commissioner Fred Skillern, who stands to gain the biggest payout at $8,879, could not be reached for comment. However, the county finance office confirmed that Skillern will accept the additional compensation.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.

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