Hamilton County commissioners send secret letter for more power to set their own pay

Eight of the nine Hamilton County commissioners appeared to have gone to great lengths to avoid talking in public about a bill that they asked their local state lawmaker delegation to draft so they could set their own pay.

Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Louie Brogdon reports that the bills, Senate Bill 707 and House Bill 717, would remove language in state law that sets Hamilton County commissioners pay and ties potential raises to the county mayor’s salary.

By decoupling the commissioners’ pay from the county mayor’s pay, county commissioners could give themselves a larger increase without increasing other county salaries.

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck drafted the letter asking for the law to be changed.

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck drafted the letter asking for the law to be changed.

But instead of passing a resolution in a public meeting to request the local delegation sponsor a bill, or even discussing in a public meeting why changing the law would be good county policy, one of the commissioners drafted a letter to the state lawmakers and left it in a commission’s private chambers for the other commissioners to sign if they wanted to, the Times Free Press reported. (The commissioner who drafted the letter, Greg Beck, is the same one who in January made headlines when he said during a meeting that, “The Sunshine Law stinks.”)

Eight of the nine commissioner did, and state lawmakers said they filed the bill as a courtesy on behalf of the county commission.

From Brogdon’s story:

There was no discussion of the commission’s request — public or private — commissioners say. And the only evidence of their effort is the bills themselves.

The bill language in its entirety:

“Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 5-5-107(b), is amend[ed] by deleting subdivision (2). This act shall take effect June 30, 2015, the public welfare requiring it.”

As of fiscal year 2014, the commissioners each made $21,368 and the county mayor made $151,006. The commission chairman made $24,638.

Commissioner Greg Beck said the commission didn’t discuss anything because he prepared the letter and left it out in the commission’s private chambers for any of his colleagues to sign who wanted to.

“It was just something I drafted. If they read it and felt like it was something they wanted to sign, they could,” Beck said.

Every commissioner except Joe Graham in District 6 signed it.

Graham said Friday night that he didn’t sign the letter because he thinks the current law is better for employees.

“The way it is now, commissioners don’t get a raise unless all the employees get a raise,” Graham said.

The letter was sent, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said Friday he wrote SB 707 “as a courtesy” to the commission.

“If we get a request from at least two-thirds of the commission, we will do it as a courtesy,” Gardenhire said.

Otherwise, he didn’t have an opinion about the bill.

“If that’s what these current county commissioners want to do, I won’t get involved,” Gardenhire said.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, who filed the House bill, said the same thing.

“I’ve not looked into it. I dropped it in as a courtesy with our deadline [to file bills] approaching,” McCormick said.

Commission Chairman Jim Fields said he signed the letter and agrees that commissioner pay shouldn’t be tied to the mayor’s, citing the importance of separation of powers in government.

“And if commissioners want to increase their pay scale, I think they should have to get out there and tell the public what they are doing instead of just attaching it to the mayor’s salary,” Fields said.

 

 

 

 

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