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  • Writer's pictureBill Raines

Lawrence County Council Attorney Katie Simon offers some suggestions on salary ordinance changes

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

LAWRENCE COUNTY - JUNE 28, 2023 - Correction: In this story, Travis Sanders is listed as Administrative Assistant it should read, Administrative Director we are sorry for this error.

Lawrence County Council Attorney Katie Simon offered some suggestions to Lawrence County Council members after a request to look at the county's salary ordinance.

The request came from Lawrence County Council member Rick Butterfield, after he feels that the salary ordinance needs a second look after many former employees who left the county for work in the private sector, then wants to return back to county at the same rate of pay when they departed the county, or above the starting pay at the current rate for the position.

Lawrence County Commissioners already removed themselves from the county's salary ordinance

His concerns come after recent requests from the county's Assessor's office, Auditor office, Recorder's office, and Treasurers office to hire employees who left the county offices to other jobs and wanted to return to county employment at pay based off of previous experience.

The Lawrence County Council Approved Auditor's Jessica Staggs, Recorder Jessica Allen's, and Treasurer Jody Edwards request to hire employees at the rate of pay when they left their respective offices.

Lawrence County Assessor April Stapp Collins request to increase an employee pay rate, to when the rate in which that employee left two years previously, and back pay was denied by the Lawrence County Council a few months back.

The request was also denied by a previous Lawrence County council for the same employee, when that employee was first re-hired.

During the meeting Tuesday night, most of the county council members wanted to leave the language as it is written, after County Council Attorney Katie Simon suggestion that if changes were made, it would eliminate the county's elected leader's ability to hire employee's qualified for the positions that require specialized training.

The county council members felt like a once size fits all policy, did not meet the needs of the county, especially when Marsha Phiefer was re-hired to fill a vacancy left in the County Auditor's office. A new employee would have to be trained, and costs of the training is expensive for a new employee.

What was not discussed, was that employees who are in the existing county offices but are not allowed to advance and given the opportunity to be trained for those open positions.

Lawrence County Council member requested that a sentence be removed from the salary ordinance. " No exceptions, unless county council approves the hiring of an employee,".

Katy Simon asked Butterfield, "So you are asking no matter what, no matter experience or years as a county employee that you do not consider that,"

" May be this is a hard position to fill, then you are denying the department head, or elected official to come in and argue before you, you are not giving them any opportunity to do that" asked Simon.

" This body can consider removing that from the ordinance, however, my opinion that we have positions like Jessica has, she had a great candidate, you can always say no, but if you remove that completely you cut the knees out of the department heads and elected officials," added Simon.

Simon wanted the Administrative Director Travis Sanders to also be able to weigh in on the issue about getting prior authority from the county.

Sanders is not a Human Resources director but rather a Administrative Assistant to the county.

" I just want you to beware if you eliminate that sentence about starting pay gets eliminated then there is no option for department heads to come to the council and say this position has been open forever, this person wants to take it, and start at this amount of pay," said Simon.

" I told Jeff early on, this is our job, to make these decisions, I want us to leave the salary ordinance as is," said Lawrence County Council member Janie " Craig" Chenault.

In the end, the county council must decide whether they want to give department heads and elected leaders the ability to ask for higher salaries of new hires, or eliminate that ability and put in a black and white ordinance that all new hires is at or below the budget for the position applied for.

The county council did not take no action but consider taking up the issue at a future county council meeting.

Currently, the county council directed all department heads that the county was on a hiring freeze except for the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department for deputies, and 911 dispatchers. After Tuesday's discussion, that hiring freeze might be ended with the county leaving hiring decisions to department heads if it was at or below their budget.

In a 2019, Salary study conducted by the county the County Assessor's and Treasurer's office is up above needed employees.

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