Tag Archives: hamilton county

McCormick pulls bill that would have raised Hamilton County commissioners’ pay

A quiet effort by Hamilton County commissioners last month to set their own pay scale has died a quiet death in the Tennessee General Assembly, reports the Times-Free Press.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he has pulled a bill that would have given local commissioners direct control over their salaries.

Eight of nine commissioners in February sent a letter asking local delegates to remove an exception in state law that ties Hamilton County commissioners’ pay to the county mayor’s salary. Only Commissioner Joe Graham declined to sign.

The intent was noble — to make commissioners have to publicly vote to raise their own pay, like every other county in the state. However, their method drew criticism from good-government groups.

McCormick says that because of an unforeseen consequence, passage of the bill would have automatically given the commissioners a roughly $4,000 pay bump.

State law bases public officials’ pay scales on county population — commissioners in more-populous counties earn more.

The Hamilton County Commission’s pay is set based on the county population in 1991, and the commissioners only get raises if the mayor does. In fiscal 2014, commissioners’ pay was $21,368 a year, with the chairman making $24,638. The county mayor made $151,006.

McCormick said ditching that exemption would reset their pay at current population numbers. And Hamilton County has grown a lot in 24 years.

“Commission pay for a county the size of Hamilton County would be a minimum of $25,000,” McCormick said.

…The whole ordeal has left Commissioner Greg Beck scratching his head.

He doesn’t want the raise, but he does want to fix what he sees as the problem — the 1991 private act that exclusively bound Hamilton County Commission pay.

Beck says he wants lawmakers to figure out how to avoid the automatic raise based on population and bring Hamilton County commissioners’ compensation method in line with the rest of the state.

“If commissioners told the state to take it off, if commissioners choose to be in handcuffs, so be it. I think I have more discipline than to go and vote myself a raise, but I don’t want to handcuff myself and appear that I don’t have discipline,” Beck said. “It’s just like saying, ‘Tie my hands, Mommy, and keep me from going in the cookie jar.’ It’s just ludicrous.”

McCormick said lawmakers could likely doctor the law this year, but he didn’t want to rush a change this session.

Hamilton County school board votes to sue the state over education funding

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Hamilton County education officials have voted to sue the state over its formula to fund schools.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/1MxsJlc) reports the Board of Education voted 8-1 Thursday night to sue over the Basic Education Program, which is how the state determines funding for public school systems. It joins other districts including Polk, Bradley, Marion and Coffee.

Meanwhile, Metro Nashville Public Schools decided on Tuesday to wait at least 30 days before actively considering a lawsuit.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has said he will try to meet with the state’s four largest school districts as early as next week to discuss funding issues. He has said his proposed budget provides $100 million for teacher pay raises and nearly $50 million bolster the state’s Basic Education Program.

Hamilton County education officials say the state doesn’t provide enough funding for a multitude of expenses, including pay and health insurance for teachers.

“The state has simply chosen to ignore their own laws,” said D. Scott Bennett, the attorney for the Hamilton County Department of Education. He said children are guaranteed a free K-12 education by the state Constitution.

Gravitt takes office early in House District 30

Hamilton County Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously decided to let East Ridge Councilman Marc Gravitt start his new job as District 30 state representative early, according to the Chattanooga TFP.

Starting today, Gravitt will replace Vince Dean, who was elected Hamilton County Criminal Court clerk. The interim appointment technically lasts until the November election, but Gravitt won the Republican nomination for the post in August and faces no Democratic opponent.

The commissioners made the appointment during a recessed meeting.

After the meeting, Gravitt thanked the commission and residents.

“I’m humbled by the confidence that the County Commission has shown for voting unanimously to appoint me to District 30 and to the citizens for electing me to serve,” Gravitt said.

District 30 starts at East Ridge and travels east along the state line out to parts of Collegedale and Apison to the Bradley County line. Gravitt said it is one of the most diverse districts in Hamilton County’s delegation, and he hopes to represent everyone.

“There is a wide range of social demographics there and I’m going to do my best to represent the district as a whole,” he said.

Gravitt will finish his term as an East Ridge councilman, but he will not seek re-election to the local post.

Hamilton commissioners campaigning with taxpayer funding?

Hamilton County commissioners have been using a “discretionary fund” to get their names on school facilities at election time, reports the Chattanooga TFP. One got a digital sign that now carries a “thank you” message to him, another had benches put up with his name on them and so on.

Some people don’t think that’s appropriate.

Dick Williams, state chairman of Common Cause Tennessee, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog group, says such public thank-yous to politicians who are using the public’s dime are basically taxpayer-funded campaign signs.

“I think it really is a blatant — not illegal — but inappropriate campaign sign,” he said. “The school could express thanks or whatever, but putting it on a permanent sign is of questionable appropriateness.”

But the commissioners and candidates don’t think so.

Boyd, the District 8 commissioner, said Friday he has not seen the message on the digital sign and didn’t ask for his name to be placed on it. But he said he didn’t think it was out of line given his prolific competitor, former Commissioner Curtis Adams.

“I’ve been by the sign several times, and I hadn’t seen anything but the information about testing and breaks. I appreciate it, though. I think a little recognition is OK. My opponent has a building named after him and his name permanently displayed,” Boyd said.

“I don’t think it’s at all wrong for a school principal or any organization to thank a commissioner for the work they’ve done to help fund something that wasn’t budgeted by the board of education,” he said.

Adams said he directed more than $1.1 million in discretionary funds to District 8 over three terms when he was commissioner. When East Ridge High School decided to name its arts center after him, he was only humbled.

“You don’t ask anybody to do that,” Adams said. “I never did consider it a campaign thing, but everything you do is a campaign thing, good or bad, really,” Adams said.
East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert, who is campaigning for the District 8 commission seat against Boyd and Adams in the Republican primary, expressed concerns about the public signs. Both of his Republican opponents have been in a position to spend the funds, but he hasn’t.

“That’s really my tax dollars being used against me. And I think that’s not quite fair,” he said. “But it’s not going to deter me from trying.”

Hamilton Democrats on the rebound?

Terry Lee, elected Hamilton County Democratic chairman in April, tells the Times-Free Press the local party’s financial troubles have been eased, a new headquarters is opening and about 30 Democratic candidates will be seeking local offices next year.

Along with raising money and rebuilding bridges, Lee said the party is going to vet and train candidates — similar to what the Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America did for the Obama campaign and others in 2008.

“We’re basically having a campaign school for folks who are interested in running,” Lee said. “People can come practice their stump speeches and we put a camera on them. It’s one thing to talk about; it’s another thing to get out there and get on video and get on the campaign trail.”

The classes — seven are planned — will also inform potential candidates how to raise money, how to set up fundraising organizations and how to run a campaign.

Lee said about 28 people have attended training and are expected to pick up qualifying papers. Many have valuable real-world experience and plenty of time for politicking, he said.

“It’s been pretty encouraging. One of the things I’m finding is a lot of people are right at retirement age. They are right at 62, and they have worked many years,” Lee said. “And they are finding they have a lot more time on their hands, so that they have an opportunity to get more involved in the community now that their regular careers are over.”