Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Amy Broyles: Sever the plan, Dean

Amy Broyles, left, often votes against the Knox County Commission grain on some hot-button items. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just an observation.

(I get paid by the cliche by the way.)

But, she’s certainly passionate. Take tonight, for example. Just the briefest mention of “severances for county employees,” and she made a long meeting even longer.

“This is not something that’s being abused and this is not something that’s being offered to every employee going out the door,” she said, taking a stand against county Mayor Tim Burchett’s plan to eliminate severance packages entirely for employees who work under the executive branch.

She said previous payouts were “never given routinely” and should be “used judiciously as a good tool to use in our human resources tool box.”

(I’m not sure why someone would use a severance package as a recruiting tool, but I digress.)

She said that since 2005, some 41 county workers received severances packages for a combined $200,000 in payouts. She also said the proposal to cut them (which the commission already has approved on a first reading) would affect only 8 percent of its employees – only those directly under the mayor’s purview.

“This is something that looks good in the paper,” she added. “We’re not saving the taxpayers any money. This is a morale-killer. This is a huge mistake.”

However, the commissioner wasn’t done.

Broyles continued, saying (and she was very clear that any overheard conversations occurred during public meetings and not during illegal backroom ones) that other commissioners agreed with her, but wouldn’t publicly side with her because “they wanted to support the new mayor.”

Still on a roll, Broyles also took the time to publicly announce that she’s heard (also in open meetings) other commissioners say they want to raise their own salaries “since we’re now doing the job of two commissioners.” (This all goes back to voters changing the board from the unwieldy 19 members down to a more manageable and less-time-spent-showboating-on-the-dais 11 members.)

And, Broyles said she’s heard that commissioners also don’t want to do away with their travel allowances. (This all goes back to the awesome story I wrote on auto allowances.)

“This is something I’ve really gotten myself worked up about and I apologize,” Broyles said.

(Hey, don’t apologize to me. Entertainment at the expense of others is always fun to watch.)

Now, for some reason that I no longer recall – perhaps because at this point I was surfing the Internet – the county administration’s chief of staff, Dean Rice (pictured below), went to the podium to address the commission. Or to answer questions. Or to just hang out. Like I said, I don’t remember.

Rice explained – again – that under the mayor’s proposal, no employee, whether they’re laid off, fired or resign, will get a deal.

But, he said if the county needs to reduce its work force, then the administration might offer early, across-the-board voluntary retirement incentives.

They would apply to those who are at least 55 years old and worked for the county for at least five years.

Rice told Broyles that “I appreciate your thoughts and understand where you’re coming from,” but that the mayor can control only policies that apply to the executive branch. That means Burchett can’t force the sheriff, the fee offices and everyone else people think he has control over but really doesn’t to follow his lead.

Rice continued, saying the county already has a great recruiting tool: “generous retirement packages.”

(No, by the way, that is not the same as a severance package. Heh.)

Broyles looked sharply at Rice. Then said: “Yes, he is setting a policy, Dean, and it’s a bad one.”

With nothing left to do, the administration’s chief of staff stepped back, adding: “Well, I appreciate that.”

It's not the end, though.

After the meeting, the two began a semi-heated exchange (that Broyles appeared to initiate) outside the City County Building’s “small assembly room” that lasted from the time I took the elevator up to the sixth floor to copy some public records and then back down to the main level (and actually about five minutes longer).

I caught bits and pieces of it, but nothing I’ll attempt to put into context. Still, it was not good-natured (although I didn't hear any good cuss words). But, it did end with a friendly handshake and a nice “goodbye” between the two.

I figure Broyles and Rice do like each other, but politically, they’re not always going to see eye-to-eye.

And like I said, Broyles doesn’t always take the popular route.

And I get paid by the cliche.

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