In 2000, Dr. B. Wayne Rockmore was paid $24,000 by Hawkins County to perform a salary scale study on all county employees.
Rockmore evaluated each position and placed each employee in an appropriate pay grade.
The purpose of the salary scale in 2000 was to put an end to costly lawsuits filed by county elected officials alleging inadequate county funding — usually for employee salaries.
In the years leading up to 2000, every year Hawkins County was involved in situations similar to Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson’s lawsuit against his county seeking more funding this year.
For any county that faces such lawsuits, it’s a lose/lose situation for the taxpayers, who have to pay the attorney fees for both sides, as well as any settlement awarded.
After the Hawkins County salary scale went into effect in 2000, one last lawsuit was filed against the county by a county office holder, and that official lost.
Since then, Hawkins County hasn’t had a lawsuit filed by an elected official seeking more funds.
Twelve years later, county leaders believe the salary scale is in need of review by professionals. A budget amendment which included $25,000 for Rockmore’s Ben Rock Group to conduct the salary scale study was approved by the commission Monday by a vote of 19-2.
Although the salary scale put an end to county lawsuits after 2000, some county commissioners argued Monday that the process wasn’t a complete success.
Trustee Patsy Courtney, who was an employee in the county clerk’s office in 2000, said Rockmore had his students conduct the interviews 12 years ago.
As an employee, she didn’t believe the 2000 study was accurate.
“Those students weren’t interested in the rest of our lives,” Courtney said. “They were interested in a grade, and we as employees don’t feel we were treated fairly. I say if you’re going to use Mr. Rockmore, Mr. Rockmore needs to be the one doing the talking to the office holders to see what these individuals do.”
Commisisoner Syble Vaughan-Trent, who joined the commission and was on the Budget Committee after the salary scale went into effect, said she recalls many county employees were dissatisfied with it at the time. She said she felt the salary scale was manipulated by some office holders at the time, and if Rockmore’s new study is adopted she believes only the Budget and Personnel committees should be allowed to change his findings.
There were also complaints that the salary study wasn’t funded, and employees didn’t get paid what the salary scale said they should.
Gary Hicks, who chairs the Budget and Personnel committees, noted Monday that he wasn’t on the commission when the study was adopted, but he could make an educated guess that Hawkins County didn’t have enough money to fund the salary scale in 2000.
Commissioner Charlie Newton said that if the Budget and Personnel committees plan on reviewing the salary scale anyway, he doesn’t believe the county should pay $25,000 for a consultant.
Hicks said neither he nor any other member of the Personnel Committee have the time or expertise to conduct a salary scale study.
“Dr. Rockmore will investigate, and he will talk to the office holders, he’ll talk to the employees with the office holder, and he’ll look at our region and how each office is paid, and how we compare to everyone else,” Hicks said. “This guy is a professional. This is what he does, and it’s my recommendation that we go with Dr. Rockmore to get these salaries back in line.”
Hicks added, “This salary scale will show us where these employees should be on the salary scale, and then we can compensate them fairly.”
Property Assessor Jeff Thacker said he is in favor of a salary scale study, but he wants to know if the revised salaries will be funded.
Thacker said he has employees who were better off five years ago than they are today, making $21,000 per year and paying $600 per month for health insurance.
Hicks said he couldn’t make that promise, but the county would try.
“We can only afford what Hawkins County can afford,” Hicks replied. “But what this will do is get employees in the correct grade that they should be in.”
Commissioner Virgil Mallett, who is one of only two commissioners remaining from the county lawsuit era, said that regardless of whether the salary scale is actually funded, that $25,000 paid for the study will save Hawkins County money in the long run.
“If you want to go back to having a lawsuit every year, paying both attorneys, I’m sure the attorneys would be glad so see it,” Mallett said.
The study doesn’t affect the county school system, highway department, sheriff’s office and solid waste department, which have their own salary scales.