Published February 3, 2021
Hamilton County, TN – Several years ago, when the Hamilton County Commissioners wanted a pay raise, they had to vote for said pay raise.
This would be a public process and generally, there would be significant media backlash against them for choosing to give themselves an increase in salary.
In response, they set up the current system which ties any adjustment/raises to Hamilton County Commissioners’ salaries (percentage wise) with the required matching raise (percentage wise) for the Hamilton County Mayor.
District 9 Commissioner Chester Bankston states that this was a “secret deal,” spearheaded by six County Commission members the media has dubbed the “Sneaky Six.”
With the implementation of the current law, raises have been done across the board percentage-wise and avoid the scrutiny of the public eye.
“The reason this act was passed in the beginning was to keep the issue out of public debate. Having the commissioner’s salary connected to the mayor’s avoids any specific discussions from the dias and allows the commissioners to receive raises right along with all county employees,” District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd said.
However, now several Hamilton County Commissioners are seeking to break the tie with the percentage scale so they can once again vote for their own pay raises.
At the request of a couple of County Commissioners, Hamilton County attorney Rheubin Taylor prepared a sign-off sheet for the Commissioners to review and add their signatures.
If passed the new Act will allow the commissioners to be able to set their own pay, possibly receiving more than they would if left on the percentage scale which is currently set at a 2.5% increase yearly.
The commissioners already make $24,417 per year, with the commission chair and co-chair earning $29,417 and $26,917, respectively.
Additionally, each commissioner receives a $12,500 per year expense account along with full insurance benefits valued at roughly $2000 per month.
The document has been signed by District 1 Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, District 4 Commissioner Warren Mackey, District 5 Commissioner Katherlyn Geter, District 6 Commissioner David Sharpe, District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd, and District 9 Commissioner Chester Bankston.
District 2 Commissioner Chip Baker, District 3 Commissioner Greg Martin, and District 7 Commissioner Sabrena Smedley, do not support the Act.
Now that the required six signatures have been collected, the County Commission’s next step will be to forward the signed Act on to Hamilton County representatives serving in the State Legislature.
One of the Representatives will bring up the Act in a meeting of the Tennessee General Assembly, where it will be voted on by the State Legislature.
Due to the fact that the approval of the Act will not affect any counties, other than Hamilton County, and that the approval will bring Hamilton County in line with the rest of Tennessee counties, the Act is likely to pass the State legislature without incident.
Upon passage by the Tennessee General Assembly, a vote by the County Commissioner is required to put the legislation into effect.
However, with the passage of the Act by the General Assembly, the Commissioners that signed the document are committed to adopt the new legislation and again a vote of only 6 of the 9 Commissioner is required to put the legislation into effect.
One of the supporters of the Act, Tim Boyd said that for commissioners it would mean, “an open discussion and vote on any salary adjustments for commissioners in the future which is line with the rest of the 94 counties in Tennessee.”
One of the criticisms of the passing of the current percentage-based pay scale for the Commissioners is that it was approved and put into law as a secret deal.
Many Hamilton County residents feel that such a change should be put to a public vote.
One Hamilton County citizen, who has asked to remain anonymous, said, “Don’t leave it up to the Commissioners to set up their own pay raises. Put it on the ballot and let the people they represent decide. This should be done in public as a vote, not a backroom signing.”
Back in 2018, during a Commission meeting, Tim Boyd proposed that the Tennessee Legislature reinstate the $100,000 in discretionary funds that each County Commissioner once had.
The amendment failed with a vote of 4-4, but due to its failing, commissioners are allowed to re-introduce the proposal again.
In a Commission meeting in January, Commissioner Warren Mackey advocated for the restoration of the discretionary funds citing his desire to grant monetary rewards to organizations within the Commissioner’s Districts that have failed to apply for or been denied COVID-19 relief funding through the Hamilton County Government.
However, Mayor Coppinger and the other Commissioners offered no response to Mackey’s proposal at the time of the meeting.