Denial of raise to Wash. Co. Clerk and Master Sneyd upheld by Tennessee court

Becky Campbell • Jun 29, 2012 at 6:48 AM

The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld a Washington County court ruling that the county was justified in denying the Clerk and Master an equal raise in pay to that of the Circuit Court clerk two years ago in an opinion filed in Knoxville Thursday.

Clerk and Master Brenda Sneyd sued Washington County in 2010 after the County Commission denied her a 10 percent raise the panel voted to give Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn.

“I’m not surprised, but I’m disappointed,” about the opinion, Sneyd said late Thursday.

The basis for the suit was that Sneyd contends both officials must be paid the same as long as they meet the statute requirement of serving two courts. They are paid the same base salary, but only Guinn received the additional 10 percent based on serving two courts.

By way of looking at the duties of each clerk, the appeals court noted that Guinn — an elected official — serves two circuit judges, two Criminal Court judges, two Sessions Court judges as well as Juvenile Court. She supervises 27 full-time and three part-time employees as well as five night clerks. Sneyd supervises 10 full-time employees and serves as clerk and master of Chancery Court for Chancellor Richard Johnson. Johnson also appointed Sneyd as clerk of Probate Court.

According to the Court of Appeals, state statute that addresses the issue of salaries for county officials “clearly means that the County Commission has the discretion to give a clerk who serves more than one court a 10 percent raise in salary above the statutorily provided base salary.” The appellate panel noted that Senior Judge Walter C. Kurtz, who was appointed to hear the case in Washington County, was correct in ruling the county was not required to provide Sneyd the same raise Guinn received.

Kurtz dismissed Sneyd’s lawsuit in August without a trial and with the opinion that state law gives the county leeway in deciding whether to give her a raise.

Sneyd has said she’s being punished for keeping special commissioner fees she earns from administration of estates and probate of wills

Between 2006 and 2010, Sneyd earned $142,561.99 from work as special commissioner. And while the Court of Appeals wrote in the opinion that Sneyd conducted some of those duties while on the job as clerk and master, Sneyd said that only goes as far as taking a phone call about a sale or handing over a deed following a sale.

In Sneyd’s suit, she said several county officials told her if she would hand over her special commissioner fees, she would receive the 10 percent raise she asked for. The Court of Appeals noted that Guinn, who earned $12,400 between 2006 and 2010 on top of her salary for special sales and auctions of real estate ordered by a judge, turned that money over to the county.

County officials have denied that statement.

The Court of Appeals also upheld the trial court’s decision that Sneyd is not entitled to have her attorney fees paid from the clerk and master budget.

“We will take it on to the Supreme Court. I regret we didn’t take it to trial,” she said. “I really thought they could see the issue and they didn’t, they hung it on the legal issue and that was not the whole picture,” she said of the Court of Appeals review.

“By doing it the way we did, I didn’t get my proof in at all. I was thinking they would remand it back for trial, but they didn’t.” Sneyd said she feels like the Court of Appeals decision stemmed from the “legalese” of the case.

“Even the commissioners don’t realize the money I make is not from the county, it’s not part of my salary. It doesn’t have anything to do with my salary. It’s a third job,” she said. “I couldn’t get any of that in.”

Sneyd said the issue isn’t her against Guinn.

“Karen and I get along fine, but I disagree her job is more important than mine,” Sneyd said.

She said it isn’t about greed, it’s about being compensated for working and she feels like she’s being punished for being successful.

“I’m not greedy, I’m not. I’ve been wronged. I know how hard I work,” she said. “I’m not through. We’ll carry it on.”

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