County Commission must pay sheriff’s merit raises, judge rules

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

The Shelby County Commission must appropriate funds for merit raises for sheriff’s office employees, a Jefferson County judge ruled Thursday.

The commission has until Nov. 1 to submit a plan to pay the merit raises, Circuit Judge Joseph L.B Boohaker wrote in a 32-page ruling Thursday.

The commission must pay the merit raises retroactively to the beginning of fiscal year 2011, Boohaker ruled.

Boohaker heard arguments in the case Oct. 13, after Shelby County judges recused themselves from the matter.

A review on the matter is set for Nov. 18 at 1:30 p.m.

The suit was filed May 9 in Shelby County Circuit Court by sheriff’s employees Russell Bedsole, Clay Hammac, Anne P. Watford and Leslie Hood, on behalf of all 209 sheriff’s employees.

The suit sought “back pay and damages due to the failure of Shelby County and the County Commission to provide full salaries to the employees” of the sheriff’s office “under the requirements of the statute regulating the employment of law enforcement employees in Shelby County.”

“We’re still waiting to see what that order means for us,” sheriff’s office Capt. Ken Burchfield said Friday. “The important thing to know is that we’re going to deliver the same service no matter what it turns out to mean.”

Burchfield said Sheriff Chris Curry has read the ruling, but wasn’t available for comment because he is out of town at a law enforcement conference.

Boohacker wrote in the ruling that Curry has the “sole authority and discretion” to approve merit pay increases. But Boohacker also wrote that those pay increases have to be “within the limitations of the total amount appropriated for the fiscal year” by the county commission.

Shelby County Attorney Butch Ellis called the ruling a “mixed bag,” adding nothing in the ruling that is “terribly surprising.”

“There’s something in there for the sheriff and there’s something for the County Commission in it,” Ellis said. “The court did rule that the merit raises for last year which had not been paid up to this point have to be paid.”