Unicoi County Commission wants to put dispatcher OT on sheriff’s department

Brad Hicks • Jan 24, 2012 at 11:37 AM

Several Unicoi County Commissioners feel the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, and not the county, should be responsible for paying half of the overtime pay apparently due to several of the county’s current and former emergency dispatchers.

However, at Monday’s regular meeting of the commission, commissioners opted to discuss the issue further with the county’s attorney before voting on a motion to that effect.

The lawsuit was a topic of discussion nearly from the outset of the meeting. During the public comments portion of the meeting, John Day, spokesman for the Unicoi County Citizens for Good Governance, said he wanted to see the UCSD responsible for the overtime pay due to the dispatchers since the department OK’d the overtime.

“And don’t amend the budget, please, to cover it at the end of the year,” Day said to the commission. “Let them find a way to pay it. They made a mistake. The taxpayers shouldn’t be held liable.”

Several commissioners agreed with Day’s suggestion. Commissioner Doug Bowman opened the discussion of the overtime pay issue among commissioners by making a motion that the UCSD be responsible for paying half of the overtime due to dispatchers. Bowman said he feels approval of such a motion may satisfy the lawsuit against the county.

Both Unicoi County and the Unicoi County Emergency Communications District were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in which eight current and former 911 dispatchers are seeking overtime pay they feel they are owed. The dispatchers are seeking unpaid compensation, an equal amount of liquidated damages, costs and attorneys’ fees.

At a Dec. 5 meeting of the Unicoi County 911 Service Board, commission chairwoman Sue Jean Wilson said that when the county’s emergency dispatchers were switched from working eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts in July 2010, more than $33,000 in overtime was accumulated.

Unicoi County 911 Director Patsy Ledford previously said Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris made the shift change in hopes of saving the county money be placing dispatchers on shifts similar to those of UCSD deputies. Officials with the County Technical Advisory Service later advised county officials that the pay cycle deputies fall under would not apply to dispatchers, and the accumulated overtime would need to be paid.

The 911 Service Board voted to pay half of the overtime owed to the dispatchers, with the county to pay the other half. But at its Dec. 19 meeting, the Unicoi County Commission rejected the measure, with several commissioners citing the need for more information. The commission also tabled a budget amendment related to the 911 Service Board’s vote.

Commissioner Loren Thomas was among those who voted last month to reject the county paying half of the dispatcher overtime, citing the need for more information on the matter. Thomas said Monday that he agrees with Bowman and that the overtime pay owed to the dispatchers should come from the UCSD’s salary line in its budget.

“I voted ‘no’ last month to pay for it, not because I don’t feel that the dispatchers should be paid,” Thomas said. “I believe they worked it, they should be paid, but I don’t believe it’s right to dump that on the taxpayers and make the taxpayers pay for that mistake.”

Kenneth Garland also said he feels the overtime should come from the UCSD budget and accused the department of falsifying time sheets.

“It seems to me like the bookkeeping in the department is not too good,” Garland said.

Commissioner Dwight Bennett, however, suggested tabling the motion until commissioners could discuss the issue with County Attorney Doug Shults in a closed client/attorney meeting that was to take place following adjournment of the commission’s regular meeting.

Commissioner Mickey Hatcher said he agrees with the premise of Bowman’s motion but said he does not feel the commission should vote on something that it does not know that it is obligated to do at this time.

When asked by commissioners, Shults suggested the commission hold off on voting until the matter could be further discussed. Bennett’s motion to table the matter was approved after Bowman withdrew his original motion. Although no dissenting votes were cast on Bennett’s motion, at least one commissioner seemed unhappy the decision to delay a vote on the issue.

“We keep putting this stuff off and we’ll be sued again before too long the way it’s going,” Garland said. “We need to do something about it now. People that can’t run their office need to get out of it.”

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said Shults and the commissioners discussed the specifics of the case in the client/attorney meeting that followed the commission’s regular meeting. Lynch also said a called meeting to again address the matter has not been scheduled.

“Everything is in a preliminary stage,” he said.

In other business, the commission:

— Approved a resolution to support pending state legislation that would ban synthetic drugs. The legislation would include the outlawing of over-the-counter drugs such as synthetic marijuana and bath salts.

— Approved a resolution enacting a statute to allow the county to enact laws prohibiting nuisances. However, the commission tabled discuss of what these specific nuisances may entail until the matter can be discussed by the county’s policy committee.

— Approved the updated county roads list, which now includes roads in the Homestead Estates subdivision.

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