AG deflates county commissioner pay raise hopes

An attorney general’s opinion has thrown cold water on arguments that Hamilton County commissioners – and perhaps commissioners elsewhere – have been paid too little for years.

The opinion basically explains commissioner compensation law in four counties – Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Sullivan.

At issue was a state law generally setting salaries for commissioners in those counties at $25,000 and a contention that Hamilton County, at least, had been mistakenly applying another statute that has commissioners paid about $4,000 less. Some argued that commissioners should get the higher salary, plus back pay for years.

The attorney general’s office concludes that the cited $25,000 statute never applied to Davidson, Hamilton or Sullivan counties because of what amounts to a printing error. As approved by the Legislature in 1975, the law specifically applied only in “counties having a county commission form of government” – but the quoted phrase was dropped when state statute books were printed or “codified,” to use the proper legal term.

Davidson, Hamilton and Sullivan counties do not have a ‘county commission form of government,” as that phrase is legally defined, and so are not covered, the opinion says. It says Knox County was covered at one point, but not after 1980.

(Note: The full opinion is HERE – and provides something of a history lesson on county government matters along with the legal reasoning.)

The Chattanooga Times-Free Press reports that not all commissioners are convinced by the opinion.

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck says and other commissioners deserve more money… (and) he plans to seek another opinion.

“It’s like going to the doctor. You don’t just get one opinion,” Beck said. “You don’t take one opinion on anything unless it is God.”

…Commissioner Joe Graham has said for months that commissioners should not be concerned with cushioning their salaries, and he said Wednesday that he appreciates the attorney general’s clarity on the matter.

“It is time for everyone to move on,” Graham said.

But Beck disagrees, and he said the commission will find another option to increase its annual pay.