Friday, December 7, 2007

Shelby County Officials Criticize Wharton's Appointee Raises

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2007 at 4:00 AM

When John Fowlkes was chief administrative officer for Shelby County, he helped advise the county on its ethics ordinance. Now that Fowlkes is a Criminal Court judge, maybe he needs to come back and referee a disagreement over the way his former CAO duties -- and his salary -- were divvied up among Mayor A C Wharton's top appointees.

In August, Fowlkes was appointed to a vacant judgeship. His CAO duties were assumed by county chief financial officer Jim Huntzicker, who now holds dual titles of CAO and CFO. Other appointees also took on additional duties, according to Huntzicker and Wharton. A total of $44,472 of Fowlkes' $144,600 salary was divided among nine employees, saving the county roughly $100,128, they say. The biggest raise, $14,808, went to the mayor's executive assistant Kelly Rayne. Huntzicker got $5,500.

"It was an opportunity for the team to get together and make some changes that will enable us to advance the mayor's agenda until the end of his term (September, 2010) without slowing down," said Huntzicker.

He said it would have been difficult to hire another CAO for three years or less with the likelihood that the person would be replaced when Wharton's term ends.

But that's not how some elected county officials see it. They say the salary money should have been put into the general fund, and raises should only be given after the county's Human Resources Department does an analysis. The raises took effect in October, but apparently the word didn't get out until about two weeks ago. Elected officials cannot give raises to themselves or Civil Service employees, but appointees are diffferent.

"I was appalled that they would split the salary," said Juvenile Court Clerk Steve Stamson. "If we are all going to be conservative and try to save the taxpayers as much as we can, then we don't need to be splitting up salaries and giving ourselves increases." Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore said Huntzicker's action is "wrong."

"I told him in a meeting this week that I wanted him to teach me how to do that," said Moore. "Appointed people already make a lot more than elected officials and more than (former mayor) Jim Rout's people did."

In November, Huntzicker asked for and received the resignation of Human Resources Administrator Paul Boyd, who had held the job for two years. "He resigned," said Huntzicker. "It does not have anything to do with this. It involves issues we have been dealing with for several months."

Boyd sees it differently.

"It was a forced resignation," said Boyd. "They indicated they didn't like the way the compensation program was being run."

Boyd called the action "malicious" because he was coping with the death of his wife six months ago. And he said he objected to the way the raises were given.

"Normally, Human Resources would do an analysis," he said. "I think an analysis should have been done."

On Monday, County Commission chairman David Lillard called a meeting of elected officials, Huntzicker, and Wharton. Huntzicker said the purpose was "to air questions relative to compensation studies done in the five court clerks' offices." Stamson said he and others brought up the salary increases from the Fowlkes fund. "Anything that happens in county government is going to get out eventually," he said. "You can't hide it."

Wharton told the Flyer that in hindsight it would have perhaps been better to notify everyone sooner, but he is pleased with the outcome and what he sees as cost savings, flexibility, and rewarding key employees who take on extra work.

"In terms of public policy, nobody else has been down this road," he said. "I think this is one of the unforeseen consequences of term limits."

Wharton said the salary decisions were not influenced by his flirtation with backers urging him to run for city mayor this fall. He said he has "every hope and intention" of serving the remainder of his term.

The suggestion that qualified people won't work for the county for a few years for $144,000 a year is likely to start another mini-storm of controversy. Fowlkes came over from the United States Attorney's office, where prosecutors make less than that. And in 2004 Wharton hired an eager state legislator as assistant CAO for slightly over $100,000. His name was Roscoe Dixon.

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