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Neal on hot seat over raises

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Neal on hot seat over raises

Linda Neal

A few members of the Wilson County Commission put Circuit Court Clerk Linda Neal on the hot seat Monday night regarding recent raises she gave to 17 of the 31 employees in her department.

The issue surrounded Neal’s request for $25,000 for new computers in her department, while issuing $49,657 in raises, which includes the cost of benefits, for 17 employees.

District 20 Commissioner Annette Stafford said while she hoped every member of the county commission would support the money for the computers because “I first hand deal with your office a lot with the computers, and I’ve been there on numerous times and they’ve gone down,” she wondered if the money could not have come from Neal’s letter of agreement for salaries to pay for them.

“No, ma’am, I can’t,” Neal said, explaining that the letter of agreement covers salaries only, not office expenditures.

Stafford asked when her budget was developed, why it did not include the money for the computers. Neal said she asked for the monies to be included, but it was not approved.

“Again, I had to go before the committees and ask again,” Neal said, adding that in her General Sessions office, she has three computers “that shut down anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes each day. Work stops for those employees at that desk where that computer is.”

In addition, Neal said she has two computers that are no longer serviceable. Also, she stated she has a detailed report that she has to submit to the state on a monthly basis and the computer that generates that report frequently crashes.

Sara Patton, commissioner from District 9, questioned Mayor Randall Hutto’s role in the letter of agreement, which appeared to anger the mayor.

“The letter of agreement that she gave me did not go above the 2.5 percent on the raise,” Hutto said, referring to the 2.5 percent raise the county court approved in the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget for all county employees.

“That’s the cap on the letter of agreement. It’s what she can pay somebody. It’s not what she has to pay somebody,” he said. “All five government [departments] I deal with tell me that. That’s their account. They can give a little raise along when they want to. She did not exceed her letter of agreement with me.”

County Finance Director Aaron Maynard explained Tuesday morning that the cap is based on the maximum allowed amount for each position. Not everyone in the department may be at the maximum amount, so even after the 2.5 percent raise is given to all employees in the department, which Neal acknowledged was done, there remains dollars left in the letter of agreement to give additional raises for promotions or merit raises.

Hutto also explained that he cannot decrease the amount in any department’s letter of agreement. “It would be up to her if she wanted to do that, she could do that.

“And just for clarification, the mayor did not give raises to anyone.”

District 16 Commissioner Jason Brockman raised questions about how she determined who got the raises and who didn’t.

“Some were promoted. Some had not been topped out in their pay level, and I may have topped them out,” Neal said. Of the 17 employees, six were promoted, while the other 11 received merit raises, according to payroll documents obtained by The Wilson Post.

“Did you go through any type of employee-based performance evaluation?” Brockman asked. “I know your office and how it works because I’m there talking to the ladies a lot when I’m at court, and what I don’t understand is how certain employees got a pay raise and so much of a pay raise and some of them didn’t.”

The raises ranged from $11.54 per year to $7,029.94 per year.

“Mr. Brockman, you are in the there on the legal side, the court side. You do not know how my office works.”

Brockman countered that he does know how government works and that having had his own business, how pay raises work.

“You don’t just pick family members or anything else to get pay raises,” he said.

“I didn’t only pick family members,” replied Neal, whose daughter works in the department. “I picked other people nor did I pick the people who supported me in my election. That’s been said also.”

“I’m not going there. I’m just trying to see if there is a way I can justify this to get people to quit calling me about how this happened,” he said.

“You can tell them to call me and I will justify.”

Neal admitted that she used the recent performance evaluations in her mind to determine the promotions and merit pay raises, but did not put it on paper.

Brockman said that the entire pay study that the mayor and other commissioners worked on back in the spring “just got railroaded by that action in my eyes.

“This was the biggest fear in my eyes and along with other county commissioners that the elected positions and/or the agreements were going to be violated giving additional pay raises to employees, therefore it cannot be fair and justified through the entire county,” Brockman said.

“This was our fear, this was my concern. And after we fight as a commission to give county employees a pay raise, they go and get an additional raise from you, and I know it doesn't violate an agreement or anything ...”

“Nor does it violate the law,” Neal quickly added.

The Circuit Court Clerk’s department is one of five county government departments that operate via a letter of agreement regarding salaries between the elected officials and the county mayor.

The other departments are the Register of Deeds, County Clerk, Clerk & Master and Trustee departments. All are fee-based offices, which means they generate through the fees they collect their budgets for salaries and return a portion of  the monies collected to the county general fund.

In addition, all are publicly elected officials, except for the Clerk & Master, who according to state law, is appointed to six-year terms by the Chancery Court judges. In Wilson County, the Clerk & Master also serves as the chief administrative officer for both Chancery and Probate courts.

Amelia Morrison Hipps / amhipps@downhomepolitics.com

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