Moon pies and moolah

Larry Van GuilderAs I see it

Few things can rattle you like a grim-looking police officer armed with a moon pie pointed straight at your gullet. That happened to me at the City County Building earlier this week.


I regained my poise, accepted the treat, and thanked the officer. Naturally, I made for the nearest soft drink machine.

Well, it was bad enough that RC Cola was nowhere to be found, but there were no drinks in the machine at all! Someone on the sixth floor will hear about this.

Actually, it’s Mayor Jacobs’ fault that I came to this sorry pass in the first place. The mayor won a bet that paid off with enough moon pies to feed every county employee other than the mayor himself, a known moon pie junkie. I hear he swore off when word spread of his frequent three moon pie lunches.

Let’s talk moolah. Chris Caldwell is the county’s finance guru and the person I seek out when I have questions about the county’s spending habits.

A few months ago, a notice went out to county employees about the “Voluntary Workforce Reduction Program.” Employees who met the eligibility requirements and were approved by their supervisor would receive:

  • Three month’s pay at their regular pay rate
  • $400 for each full year of service
  • $3,000 to assist with medical coverage transition
  • Payment of accrued unused vacation
  • Payment of unused sick leave if retirement eligible
  • Payment of five months of the health insurance premium currently paid on their behalf by the county (including COBRA fees if applicable), or $6,200 to assist with medical care if the employee is not eligible for COBRA and elects not to stay in the county’s health plan

Chris Caldwell

That sounds like it could add up to serious moolah when the dust settles from employees rushing to the exit, and it does. The figure is $2.57 million and does not include sick leave ($10,000 maximum), accrued vacation or fee office employees. (Complete details here: Voluntary Workforce Reduction Overview) A list of the individuals who participated: 2017-06-27VoluntaryWorkforceReductionProgramparticipants

The coin has two sides; savings should justify such apparent largesse by the county. How? Caldwell explained (with documentation) that vacated positions which aren’t filled will reduce payroll by a little more than $4 million.

All the intricate bookkeeping doesn’t replace the institutional knowledge of the departed. To bridge the knowledge gap as replacements come up to speed, four voluntarily “reduced” employees were offered independent contractor positions at negotiated pay rates for the remainder of this calendar year. The mayor’s office, finance, human resources, and engineering and public works each have one individual under contract.

In at least one instance, a senior manager’s duties were divided among several former subordinates. Mark Jones was a senior director with responsibility for human resources, benefits and risk management. An employee was bumped upwards in each department.

Last week I wrote of some sore thumb anomalies I noticed in the FY 2020 budget. Most were comparatively minor (in the context of the $853 million budget) like the increase in the internal audit budget from actual expenses of $381,000 in FY 2019 to a current budget of over $700,000.

In FY 2019, a budgeted position went unfilled. This year all positions will be filled including a new one, an IT auditor. If only all the answers came so easily.

How the $1.2 million reduction of the so-called “indigent care” budget can or will be addressed requires more fieldwork. The question is on my radar.

Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for KnoxTNToday.

Update from Sandra Clark.   This is the original list of folks who took the buyout that I obtained from Chris Caldwell.  The lists don’t seem to match. List of Employees – VWRP

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