City Officials Working to Settle Pay Dispute Over Police Investigator Position

February 19, 2008
Dwayne Page

When the Smithville Aldermen hired Jerry Hutchins', Jr as police investigator last month, they did not specifically address his rate of pay, apparently unaware that the city budget currently does not provide a pay scale for the position of "investigator".

On Monday night, the board voted 5 to 0 to start Hutchins at a sergeant's rate of pay, $11.89 per hour and increase it to $13.13 per hour after sixty days. In the meantime, the board will work on establishing a pay scale for the "investigator" position and possibly act on it at the next meeting. Once the pay scale is set, Hutchins may earn more than sergeants pay. City attorney Vester Parsley, Jr. is expected to do some research on what the city has paid other officers in the past who have performed similar duties based on their experience. Mayor Taft Hendrixson says he will check back with several other law enforcement agencies he recently contacted to obtain actual amounts on what they pay their investigators.

The man Hutchins' is replacing, Captain Steven Deffendoll, who apparently also worked as an investigator, was making $15.95 per hour up until he resigned last fall.

Police Chief Richard Jennings, during the interview process last month, recommended Hutchins for the job and asked that he be hired at the same rank and pay as Deffendoll based upon his years of service.

After he was hired by the board, Chief Jennings says the mayor told him that Hutchins should go to work at the rank of a sergeant. " His start date was Monday, (February 18th), but the mayor asked me to wait and not start him until Tuesday (February 19th) because his rate of pay was in question and it was going to be brought up before the board tonight (Monday).

Since Deffendoll was making $15.95 per hour, Alderman Willie Thomas made a motion that Hutchins start off making $15.95 and that his pay be increased to $17.19 after sixty days on the job. Alderman Tonya Sullivan seconded the motion. Alderman Jerry Hutchins' Sr. also voted for it but Aldermen Steve White and Cecil Burger voted against it.

The measure passed on a 3 to 2 vote.

However, following the vote, Mayor Hendrixson cast a veto of the board's action saying starting Hutchins' pay above other employees in the department was unfair. " After making inquiries to several law enforcement agencies and after reviewing the current pay scale for our other officers, especially Lieutenant Leffew, who is an eight year veteran of our department, It is my opinion that the pay rate for an investigator should be no more than that of sergeant's pay. My inquiries included the Cookeville Police Department, which pays it's investigators less than sergeants, the Lebanon Police Department and the McMinnville Police Department, which both pay investigators comparable to sergeants. I also contacted the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department, which pays a few cents more per hour to an investigator, and the Smith County Sheriff's Department, who also pays investigators at a rate comparable to sergeants pay. I do not believe that raising the investigator pay above that of sergeant would be doing Lieutenant Leffew or our other officers right. Sergeant's pay starts at $11.89 per hour and after 60 days goes to $13.13 per hour. The investigator will top out at $15.95 after four years of service as stated in the Smithville wage chart for this fiscal year, that being that of sergeant."

The board, on a 3 to 2 vote, failed to override the mayor's veto. Aldermen Thomas, Sullivan, and Hutchins voted to override, but Aldermen White and Burger voted to sustain the veto. Four votes are required to override a mayoral veto.

Alderman White then made a motion to set Hutchins' pay at $11.89 cents per hour, the same as a sergeant's starting pay, and raise it to $13.13 after sixty days. However the vote failed 3 to 2. Aldermen White and Burger voted for it, but Aldermen Thomas, Sullivan, and Hutchins voted against it.

Alderman Sullivan took issue with the Mayor, saying while he was opposed to offering Hutchins $15.95 per hour, he was apparently willing to make that same offer to another applicant for the job, Danny Holmes of Baxter. "He was offered 15.95 per hour. I have contacts in Cookeville that verify that".

Mayor Hendrixson responded "This man was a 30 year veteran. I talked with him about several dollars, different things, but he couldn't be hired at any price. He wouldn't move to this county."

Alderman Sullivan also complained that Mayor Hendrixson, while compiling information from other law enforcement agencies on what they pay their investigators, did not obtain actual dollar amounts so that the aldermen could make a comparison.

Alderman White then confronted Sullivan about her support of Hutchins, claiming he has no prior
police investigative experience and that while he may have done some private investigations for people in another county, he is not licensed by the state as a private investigator.

Alderman Sullivan said she believed Hutchins met the qualifications.

During the January 29th meeting when Hutchins was hired, Mayor Hendrixson said the job description specifications for the city investigator position stated that applicants must have been a POST certified officer for eight years with three years of investigative experience as an investigator.

Hutchins told the aldermen at that meeting that he has more than three years of investigative experience and cited letters of recommendations he has received from people he has worked for, having done part time private investigation assignments.

Chief Jennings also claimed that during his previous tenure as chief, Hutchins worked in the police department for up to fifteen months, doing investigative work

With the pay dispute still unresolved, Alderman Hutchins Monday night asked what Jerry Jr. was supposed to do about a job, since he had already resigned from his position with the Wilson County Sheriff's Department.

Chief Jennings suggested that the aldermen follow the mayor's recommendation for now and start Hutchins at the rate of $11.89 cents per hour until the issue is settled by the board.

The board voted 5 to 0 in favor of that recommendation.

In other business, the aldermen voted 4 to 1 to hire new police officers Matthew Farmer and Scott Davis. Both Farmer and Davis earn a starting pay of $10.63 per hour, which will increase to $11.89 upon completion of the 60-day probationary period. Mayor Hendrixson says Farmer is a ten year veteran of law enforcement, having worked in White and Putnam County while Davis has been in law enforcement for four to six years, having worked for the Berryhill and Murfreesboro Police Departments. Both are certified officers. Aldermen White, Burger, Sullivan, and Hutchins voted to hire the officers. Alderman Thomas voted no.

The aldermen also voted 4 to 1 to award a two year airport hay contract to Burnace Vandergriff of V & V Farms, the highest bidder at $775 per year. Vandergriff will pay the city this amount for the right to cut the hay from the city airport property grounds. The city accepted sealed bids. Others submitting bids were Jerry Johnson at $625 per year, Hugh Washer at $501 per year, and Bruce Medley of B & M Livestock at $475 per year. Aldermen White, Burger, Sullivan, and Hutchins voted to award the contract to Vandergriff. Alderman Thomas voted no.

The city recently advertised seeking applicants for a newly created certified water plant operator position at the city water plant. No one applied. Alderman Sullivan Monday night asked that the position be advertised in newspapers of surrounding counties. Aldermen Sullivan, Thomas, and Hutchins voted in favor. Aldermen White and Burger voted no saying another new position at the water plant was not needed.

The aldermen adopted on second and final reading, a proposed ordinance to rezone property belonging to the First Assembly of God from R-2 Medium Density Residential to B-2 General Business. The property is located at the intersection of Bryant and Murphy Streets with Bright Hill Road. The vote was unanimous and there was no opposition expressed during the public hearing.

The aldermen, however, took no action on a proposed ordinance to change the name of Calhoun Street to Bill Bing Drive. Mayor Hendrixson and Alderman White say members of the Calhoun family have contacted them objecting to the change. Mayor Hendrixson brought up the issue at the last meeting after receiving a request from members of the Bing family that the street be renamed in his honor. Both the Calhoun and Bing families have owned property on that street.

Alderman Sullivan requested that the old fire horn siren on top of city hall be used to alert the public anytime there is a tornado warning for DeKalb County. Many years ago, the fire horn was sounded at noon each day and during fire calls. If the fire horn can't be used, Sullivan wants to check into purchasing a new tornado siren alert.

Alderman Sullivan also wants the city to do some clean up and repair work at the Smith Road city park to make it a safer place for children to play. She says the shelter needs an upgrade and new lighting should be installed.

The aldermen approved on first reading an ordinance to rezone a portion of property belonging to Johnny Paul at 426 West Broad Street from R-1 Low Density Residential to B-2 General Business. Mayor Hendrixson says this property, known as Sexton's car lot, is already partially zoned B-2 but the rest of it is currently zoned R-1. Mayor Hendrixson says the owner of the property wants the entire property zoned B-2 (commercial). Second and final reading on the proposed ordinance will be scheduled at the next meeting on March 3rd.

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