Monday, February 28, 2011

Burchett: Severances still a no-go

A little over a month ago, the Knox County Commission officially backed the mayor’s plan to eliminate severance packages for employees, agreeing to insert the policy into the county’s code.

That, however, changed tonight.

On the second reading of the ordinance (they need to approve these things twice), the commission balked.

Last time it was 10-1, with only Commissioner Amy Broyles dissenting. Tonight, though, it was shot down in a 6-4 vote, with commissioners Ed Shouse, Dave Wright, Tony Norman, Sam McKenzie and Chairman Mike Hammond jumping ship.

(Commissioner Mike Brown wasn’t on the dais during the vote.)

So, what happened? Apparently, some commissioners felt that the move would tie the hands of the next mayor. Or that’s what they said.

As Hammond put it: “I just think the mayor – whoever he is – needs to decide what their policies are going to be.”

Well, that’s cool, but the commission's decision really doesn’t change a thing for right now. County Mayor Tim Burchett doesn’t need their support. He never did. He was being polite.

The policy has been set. For at least the next four years.

Because if the mayor says that he’s going to ban severance packages for employees who fall under the executive office’s purview (about 900 of them), then it happens.

And that’s just what he said tonight after the vote.

“We really just wanted buy-in from the commission, but it’s OK,” he said. “It’s not a beach to die on. It’s old news. We’re not going to be paying (severance packages) out, anyway.”

On a side note, Burchett might not have gained full commissioner support tonight, but support is coming from other places throughout the Deathstar.

In recent weeks, for example, county Trustee John Duncan III said he banned severance packages from his office. Sheriff Jimmy “JJ” Jones, County Clerk Foster Arnett and Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey also sent letters to the administration, saying they support the mayor’s request.

Officials with the Public Building Authority, which has long handed out the packages, also sent a note to the mayor, but didn’t take a side. In the letter, officials said they were hiring a new lawyer and wanted to wait before making a decision.

Knox County Register of Deeds Sherry Witt told commissioners awhile back that she is not on board.

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