If I were sheriff

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk

This week one of my oldest allies from the glory days of Sheriff Tim Hutchison showed up on TV asking the Sheriff’s Office Merit Council to reinstate her take-home car and gas card. If ever there was a case for not rocking the boat, this is it. She is making over $100K with unclear duties. John North at WBIR-TV has the most comprehensive story here.

I supported Tom Spangler for sheriff because:

  • He was the best qualified candidate
  • He was not supported by incumbent Sheriff Jimmy “JJ” Jones
  • He advocated better pay for deputies.

Spangler has delivered on a pay increase. It was appreciated, but it’s not enough. In a world where a young deputy like Jordan Hurst – all alone at the Strawberry Plains Pilot store parking lot, facing a bloody man who had just killed three – earns $40-something, why should a planning director earn $106,000 or a procurement director earn more than the chief deputy?

The Merit Council has starting positions posted at $34,329 per year for a correctional officer (swing shifts at the jail) and $38,875 for patrol officers. It’s not enough for what they do.

Look at the chart above. I omitted names because this is not about people; it’s about positions. Of 13 employees making over $100,000/year, 5 are women, 0 are people of color and 6 are doing jobs that should be folded back into county government or eliminated.

Remember, Tom Spangler did not hire these people. He promoted Bernie Lyon to chief deputy and hired Kimberly Glenn, who proved her mettle during his campaign, as director of communications. Glenn’s salary was set by the county HR director who looked at similar jobs in other departments.

Again, forget personalities and look at job function:

One plan to reconfigure administrative salaries in the Sheriff’s Office.

Three lawyers: Let Knox County Law Director David Buuck handle it. For the Sheriff’s Office to hire three lawyers is like Buuck’s office hiring its own deputies for protection.

Procurement: Send it back to Knox County where it happily resided throughout history until Jones hired a friend to do less work for more pay than he was making as purchasing director for all of Knox County government.

Finance and grants: Let Chris Caldwell’s department handle it.

Planning and policy: Abolish the position.

Now, here’s the good part.

By eliminating just six positions, the sheriff could give each of his remaining eight administrators a raise (his own salary is set by state law) and still save over three-quarters of a million dollars a year.

But, you say, these positions are covered by the Merit Council. The sheriff can’t touch them.

He’s the high sheriff, elected by the people to run his office. Play offense, sheriff. The Merit Council was created to protect uniformed officers from political interference. Administrative staff should serve at your pleasure. Challenge it.

I wrote an editorial earlier called Is Spangler tough enough? And then I saw him at the next week’s Halls Republican Club. When he stood to introduce himself, he said, “And yes, Sandra, I’m tough enough to do this job.” I quickly answered, “We’ll see.”

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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