Memo from Assistant Chief Deputy

On January 26, 2007, Mayor Cunningham disseminated a memorandum to all commissioners concerning Commissioner Walker’s request made during the January commission meeting. The Mayor has also added several other requests from several other commissioners in his memorandum. I have been tasked by you to respond to any "highly skewed" information contained in the foresaid memoranda.

As the Mayor’s memo states, he was asked by Commissioner Walker to compare Blount County Sheriff’s Office employees’ base salary with the Cities of Maryville and Alcoa. After reviewing the memo, exhibits and speaking with Commissioner Walker it was not his intent to compare "grocery money", "total dollars", nor to disseminate all Blount County Employees "Earned" wages. However, some commissioners that were not named in the memo requested it. Neither the Sheriff nor anyone in the sheriff’s office was ever contacted by any commissioners requesting this information. The only information in the memo in which the sheriff’s office provided was an exhibit showing the base salaries of all employees, not "budgeted salaries". All gross salaries shown in exhibits are budgeted within the sheriff’s office budget. Finally, it is my contention the release of information concerning law enforcement officers by the county must be protected and is protected in Tennessee Code Annotated Section 10-7-503 (Records open to public inspection-Exception). The law also provides that law enforcement personnel designated as working undercover will have their records treated as confidential. As of today, no employees of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office were individually notified that their records were released or reviewed. Under the law, the public does have a right to know certain information concerning Sheriff’s Office employees and there are provisions to gain information.

The memo requested what the Sheriff’s office total budget figure allocations were for the years 2000 to present. The figures that follow will show the budget from 1998 to present which will include capital. It will further reveal the relationship by percentage to the general county budget as a whole.

Blount County Sheriff's Office Budget General County Budget BCSO % of General County
1998-1999 $ 8,819,571.00 $19,519,549.00 45.1833%
1999-2000 $10,527,895.00 $23,127,565.00 45.5210%
2000-2001 $10,385,281.00 $23,724,525.00 43.7745%
2001-2002 $12,582,397.00 $26,921,885.00 46.7367%
2002-2003 $13,429,662.00 $28,487,090.00 47.1430%
2003-2004 $14,054,758.00 $30,057,156.00 46.7601%
2004-2005 $16,038,194.00 $34,174,891.00 46.9298%
2005-2006 $16,877,864.00 $36,271,736.00 46.5317%
2006-2007 $17,084,945.00 $37,160,448.00 45.9762%

The chart displays that the Sheriff’s office budget as a percentage of the General County budget has remained consistent, with the average for the last 9 years being 46.0618%. Furthermore, this shows over the past two fiscal years the Sheriff’s office has decreased in relation to the General County budget. The operations’ budget of the sheriff’s office (all line items not related to salaries and benefits) has decreased $ 452,367.00 from $2,728,204.00 in 2004-05 to $2,275,837.00 in 2006-07.

Next, the memo provides "information relative to what you termed as ‘bonuses’ in the Sheriff’s Department?tendered to top salaried personnel who are not eligible for over-time pay". I will go into this matter because it is the Sheriff’s discretion to give pay in lieu of overtime not only to "top salaried personnel" (i.e. Chief Deputy and Assistant Chief Deputies), but also to all personnel whom are required or may be required to work additional hours above their normal work week. These positions are as follow: Clerical, Director of Technology, Criminal Investigations Captain, Juvenile Captain, Adult Detention Center Captain, and Office Manager.

The memo also requested the mayor to provide for the last three years the average number of vacancies in the Sheriff’s Department. The Blount County Sheriff’s Office currently has 26.5 unfilled positions. They are as follow: 7 patrolman, 2 court service officer, 1 adult corrections lieutenant, 1 adult correction transport officer, 8 adult corrections officers, 1 part-time adult corrections medical personnel, 1 records clerk, 1 computer programmer, 3 juvenile corrections corporals, and 2 juvenile corrections officers. Moreover, for the last several years (more than three) the sheriff’s office has had a turnover rate in the correction division of approximately 25% per year that equates to 20 employees per year. Until this year, the sheriff’s office has averaged loosing 10-12 employees per year combined in all the other divisions. However, the sheriff’s office for the first six month of this fiscal year has lost 33 employees of which 14 were from patrol and 12 were from corrections. In comparison with the same six month time for the last three year fiscal years the sheriff’s office has lost in 2005- 6 patrolmen and 11 corrections officers; 2004- 7 patrolmen and 10 corrections officers; 2003- 1 patrolmen who later returned and 14 corrections officers. Finally, Chief Jack Mckeever, Lindenhurst, Illinois Police Department, author of Recruitment and Retention of Qualified Police Personnel, "One of the greatest challenges facing law enforcement organizations today is the successful recruitment and retention of highly qualified employees. Community safety can be compromised when substantial experience and training is lost through staff turnover and vacancy. It is imperative then, to recruit, select and retain the kind of personnel who will bring to the department and to the community a strong commitment to and talent for the job".

To begin with, it will take an average of 24 weeks (almost six months) to train new patrol officers to fill a vacant slot. A new officer will have to attend two weeks of orientation, ten weeks at the basic police academy, and 12 weeks of field training. The following is a breakdown of the cost for those 24 weeks of training for new patrol officers:

Salary and Benefits $15561.00
Basic Police Academy 2838.00
Uniforms/Equipment 1900.00
Pre-Testing 300.00
Ammo for qualifying 50.00
Total cost to the county $21,149.00

It was further requested in the memo to "tabulate the amount of raises which could be give to people whom you indicated the Sheriff has categorized as ‘living on the edge of poverty level’ if he simply did not fill 20 of these vacancies and requested transfers from those budget salaries be allotted among the remainder of his personnel on the low end of the spectrum?Captain level down?would be about $3,500.00, give or take". Based on these tabulations only about 142 employees would receive any additional compensation from the Sheriff’s office, moreover, this does not include any cost associated with employer benefits (i.e. Social Security, Employer Medicare Liability and State Retirement). I have tabulated that a $2000.00 raise could be given to all employees across the board, which would include clerical, adult corrections, juvenile corrections, and court services. I would be cautious in telling employees, "the Sheriff has the money to give you a raise he just will not do it", as some employees have been told by commissioners. The Sheriff is willing to give all employees an equal raise across the board to every employee. Since you have been in office, the Sheriff has sent numerous letters advising of shortfalls in gasoline and medical, which arise every fiscal year. For example, the sheriff’s office had to transfer $292,775.35 out of surplus salary line items last fiscal year. The Sheriff is willing to transfer this year these funds for salaries, but what will pay the medical and gasoline when they fall short. Is the commission willing to step up and fund these shortfalls?

Subsequently, the memo explains the sheriff’s office vehicle inventory and detail of the inventory very well. I would like to further expand the topic somewhat and explain to the commission how the sheriff’s purchases vehicle. Back in 1999-2000, the sheriff’s office made an agreement with then the County Executive, Budget Director, and Commission would fund a fleet management program for the sheriff’s office the Sheriff would agree to house at a minimum of 40 federal inmates. Since 1999, the sheriff’s office has been able to consistently purchase the same amount of vehicles each year. As a result of the agreement the sheriff’s office is now averaging 140 federal inmates and has brought into the county coffers $11,677,020.87 in revenue.

The memo answered one request as to whether the Blount County Sheriff’s Office services the City of Maryville and the City of Alcoa’s law enforcement need. I think it is fair to say that the Blount County Sheriff’s office does service law enforcement needs for the two cities. First, the sheriff’s office is responsible for the service of criminal and civil warrant for all law enforcement agencies in Blount County. The sheriff’s office currently has over 5,000 criminal warrants on file to be serviced. Next, the sheriff’s office is responsible for housing and caring for all inmates arrested in Blount County. The sheriff’s office transports all mental health patients (468) from the hospital located inside the City of Maryville. In addition, the sheriff’s office is responsible for the monitoring of all sex offenders for the entire county: 15-Maryville, 7-Alcoa and 77-Blount County. Finally, the sheriff’s office manages and supervises the Fifth Judicial Drug Taskforce, which investigates drug crimes in both cities. The Sheriff’s office as the Chief Law Enforcement Agency in Blount County welcomes these and many other tasks that are set before us. We must never forget that city residents also pay county taxes to support these operations, so the sheriff has an obligation not only to county residence but also to the residence inside the incorporated city limits. For example, the officer involved shooting which occurred on Alcoa Highway by an Airport Authority police officer is being investigated by the Blount County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division.

The next request in the memo that was skewed is the explanation on dependent insurance cost analysis. It is set forth in budget manual for 2007-2008 that the dependent coverage rate is being increased from $626.50 month to $721.00 month a 15.08% increase. It was the sheriff’s office intent to make the commission aware of this increase in a memo previously distributed. It is also the intent of this memo to show the commission if the increase is passed on to the employee what it will mean for an employee who is earning $24,000.00 and may receive a 5% pay increase. "If" the $94.50 monthly increase were passed on to the employee, it would cost the employee an additional $1134.00 annually for family insurance coverage. "If" an employee, earning $24,000.00 was to receive a 5% raise this would equate to $100.00 per month or $1200.00 annually. The net result of this increase would all but wipe out any raise. The employee would net an additional $5.50 per month or $66.00 annually. As you can see, this is so.

Some commissioners have asked for an answer of employees who are allotted a vehicle for work purposes and are allowed to drive to and from work. Not all employees who are assigned vehicles for work purpose drive the vehicle to and from work. The only employees who drive their assigned vehicles to and from work are those employees who are post- certified officer, employees who are on-call and those who have special assignments. Those employees not in this category, but who are assigned a vehicle for work purpose may drive their vehicle to and from work only if they reimburse the Blount County Sheriff’s office for mileage related to driving to and from work. Allowing employees to drive vehicles to and from work allow for a much faster response time to emergencies and may deter crime in the area where employees reside.

Lastly, the memo requested the mayor to assess the quality of law enforcement in the County. The mayor states, "Certainly, it is on a par, if not better, than any enforcement agency in the State". The sheriff’s office is able to stay on par only because of minimum staffing requirement set forth and the unpopular decision by you remove 11 school resource officers from Blount County Schools. Furthermore, it is the dedication of the men and women of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office to work additional hours each week to meet the growing needs and calls for service in our community. Unlike other communities, Blount County Sheriff’s Office through your leadership has set a high quality of service that is not an exception but the rule. The citizens of Blount County require the sheriff’s office to perform at this level no matter the costs. This is why in exhibits provided to commission by the mayor shows a deputy whose base salary is $32,000.00 actually had "grocery money" of $42,000.00. This employee as many others were required to work overtime to meet the minimum staff level to provide a high quality of service. It is also evident, when you examine the accrued vacation, compensatory time, and holiday time as of January 2007 that the sheriff’s office has a current liability of over $500,000.00. It is also evident, when you examine overtime for a narcotics officer who in many cases worked on an average of 300 hours of federal overtime in 2006.

In conclusion, per your request I am providing this memo to clear up any "highly skewed" information that may cause distrust, misrepresentation of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office. It is the desire of the sheriff’s office to answer any question that may arise in the future. The Sheriff’s office has met with eight commissioners one on one over the last two weeks and will continue to schedule additional meeting until all 21 commissioners have been given the same opportunity. The key to the Blount County Sheriff’s office are the men and women who serve their community on a daily bases no matter the rank, title or position.

© 2007 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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