Shelby County Pay Raises Move Comes Up Short as Commission Makes New Legal Moves

By Bill Dries  |   (Memphis) Daily News

A move to raise the pay of the county’s top 19 elected positions effective with the winners of the 2018 county elections fell short Monday, Nov. 13, of the two-thirds majority needed to pass in a set of votes by the Shelby County Commission.

The two ordinances to raise the pay of the county mayor, county sheriff and the county trustee, county register, county clerk and assessor each failed on 8-5 votes on third and final reading. They needed nine votes to pass and take effect.

A third ordinance to raise the pay of all 13 positions on the county commission as well failed on a 4-6 vote with several commissioners abstaining.

The raises ranged from a 10.3 percent hike for commissioners to a 32.4 percent raise for sheriff.

The proposal was made by several commissioners based on a study of pay for county officials in comparable cities done by the administration of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. But Luttrell and his administration made it clear they were not supporting the proposal.

Commissioners also approved a resolution Monday directing the county attorney to withdraw the administration’s lawsuit against the commission that is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday afternoon in Chancery Court.

Luttrell is suing the commission over the move by commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer to hire a law firm to pursue opioid abuse litigation. Shafer’s decision was affirmed last week by the commission in a vote at a special meeting of the body. Luttrell then amended the original lawsuit naming only Shafer to include every commissioner.

Luttrell is seeking a court decision that would void the commission’s contract with the Napoli Shkolnik PLLC law firm and contends neither Shafer nor the commission have the ability to unilaterally pursue such a contract under terms of the county charter.

The commission, in its resolution, directs the county attorney to drop that lawsuit and to come to the commission for approval of any lawsuit or litigation the county pursues.

The resolution is the latest salvo in a larger controversy that has spanned the last two-and-a-half years over the move by commissioners to hire their own legal counsel as the city council has had for the last 25 years.

Luttrell contends the county charter is different on the matter than the city charter is and is expected to contest the commission’s latest action Monday.

The action could come up in Tuesday’s hearing before Chancellor Jim Kyle.

Meanwhile, the commission, through its attorney, Julian Bolton, filed a civil suit in Shelby County Circuit Court against Purdue Pharma LP and two dozen other pharmaceutical companies and individuals including CVS and Rite Aid over the impact opioid abuse has had on the services county government provides.

The plaintiff in the first filing Nov. 2 is Oakville Healthcare Center.

In other action, the commission Monday delayed a vote on a contract with Aramark Corrections Services LLC to provide food service to the Shelby County Jail and juvenile detention facilities both overseen by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

The commission delayed a vote in what was the first clash between the commission’s newly-created position of chief diversity officer and the administration.

Former Shelby County commissioner Shep Wilbun, who is the chief diversity officer, told commissioners that Aramark didn’t meet a goal of doing at least 20 percent of its business in the contract with locally-owned small businesses. But the administration and Aramark’s attorney, John Farris, argued the company did meet the goal with a sub contractor, PVM Foods Inc., used in the past whose certification had lapsed during the bidding process.

There was no percentage set for minority-owned businesses in the contract process.

The commission takes up the matter in its Nov. 29 committee sessions with another vote tentatively scheduled for the first commission meeting in December.

The commission approved Monday an $8.7 million contract with CBM Managed Services for food service at the County Corrections Center.

And the commission approved a $21.3 million interlocal agreement that is its part of an agreement with the city of Memphis government for a new radio system used by police, fire, sheriff’s office and other first responder agencies.

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