The county has been hit with another lawsuit.
This time it’s not from the city of McMinnville, but from county employees themselves.
Upset that new county employees with the newly created Financial Management Department are earning far more than workers who have been on their staffs for years, four elected officials have filed a lawsuit against the county.
The lawsuit seeks to increase the pay of county employees in four departments. The lawsuit has been filed by Trustee Darlene Bryant, Clerk and Master Myra Mara, Circuit Court Clerk Bernie Morris, and County Court Clerk Lesa Scott.
The lawsuit comes after several county employees were hired into the Financial Management Department earning $28,500 a year. This created controversy because the county has several longtime office employees who earn around $20,000.
“I have someone who has worked here almost four years and she is only making $18,313.50 per year,” Mara said.
The four offices in question filed letters of agreement stating their initial salary requests to Pelham’s office. None of the offices could come to an agreement on salaries, even though Pelham had offered a 5 percent increase to each office’s lowest paid staff members. All county employees were also promised a $500 increase in pay for the next fiscal year.
Unable to reach an agreement, the four offices then decided to serve Pelham with papers suing the county for increase in salaries for the majority of their employees.
Bernie Morris is upset because she cannot keep workers. Most recently, she lost a worker who left to work at the jail making more money.
“I lost a girl who had been with me over eight years to go work at the jail making $31,000,” Morris said. “I’ve lost four girls in 10 years because of the pay not being up to snuff. I can’t get them trained. It tells in the code book that it takes five years to get them trained to be sufficient to be trained enough to run your office and then they go somewhere else.”
Morris said some of her valued employees earning $21,000 were stunned to hear about newly hired county employees earning $28,500.
“You can’t hire just any Tom, Dick or Harry in here,” said Morris. “You’ve got to have trustworthy people. I’m surprised they stayed with me for $21,000. I feel that when the others were hired in at $28,500, the morale with the county just went downhill. I’m a fee office and I feel my girls should get paid before we turn over the excess fees to the county.”
Pelham replied, “I just can’t in good conscience feel like I can sign a 50 percent pay increase, a 32 percent pay increase, a 26 percent pay increase, nor a 10 percent pay increase when we’ve got people all over this county who got a $500 increase. I tried to the best of my ability to come to a compromise, or at least what I thought was a compromise.”
Bryant and Mara say according to Tennessee Code Annotated 8-20-101, clerks and masters, county trustees, county clerks, and clerks of circuit, criminal, and special courts may set the amount of deputies necessary to run their offices and may also set the salary each should be paid.
Many county employees agree a pay scale across the board would be the most fair way to pay all employees.
Mara said, “The reason I am suing is because we were out of time. My letter of agreement said we had until 30 days past the filing date to come to an agreement. I submitted two proposals, one asking for a 5 percent increase overall and another asking for a 2 percent increase overall. Mr. Pelham shot me down on both. By law, we had to have a letter of agreement or file a petition. The budget passed on July 16, I filed the petition 29 days later on Aug. 14.”
Through the lawsuit, Bryant hopes to get these salaries for her employees:
•$40,950 for 1st deputy
•$29,800 for 2nd deputy
•$28,500 for 3rd deputy
•$22,890 for 4th deputy, part-time
•$21,000 for 5th deputy, part-time
•$6,300 for 6th deputy, part-time
Bryant is asking for a 10 percent increase for one employee and 5 percent for the others.
Mara hopes to get these salaries for her employees:
•$31,700 for first deputy – was $30,190
•$28,500 for second deputy – was $18,313.50
•$19,227 for third deputy, part-time
•$2,400 for fourth deputy, part-time/ seasonal
Mara is asking for a 50 percent increase for one employee and 5 percent for the others.
Morris hopes to get these salaries for her employees:
•$50,312.86 for 1st deputy clerk
•$47,361 for 2nd deputy clerk
•$36,140.24 for 3rd deputy clerk
•$29,549.21 for 4th deputy clerk
•$29,000 for 5th deputy clerk
•$28,000 for 6th deputy clerk
•$28,500 for 7th deputy clerk
•$28,500 for 8th deputy clerk
•$28,000 for 9th deputy clerk
•$25,000 for 10th deputy clerk
•$15,000 for 11th deputy clerk, part-time
•$10,000 for 12th deputy clerk, part-time
Morris is asking for a 26-30 percent increases in salary for her four lowest paid employees.
Scott hopes to get these salaries for her employees:
•$35,088.75 for deputy clerk 1
•$34,428.17 for chief deputy clerk
•$32,601.17 for deputy clerk 2
•$32,601.17 for deputy clerk 3
•$32,601.17 for deputy clerk 4
•$28,500 for deputy clerk 5
Scott is asking for a 10 percent increase for one employee and a 5 percent increases for the others.