Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ballard: 'I'm the hero, not the goat'

The story that's been trickling around the Deathstar since last week is that Knox County Property Assessor Phil Ballard, left, reinstated his travel allowance on the backs of his lower paid employees.

Ballard says that's not the case.

“I'm the hero of this story – I'm not the goat,” he told me last Friday when I asked him about it. “I saved jobs.”

Here's the deal:

A state grant somewhere in the neighborhood of $433,429 that the department used to receive apparently expired. (It was some kind of reappraisal thing or something to pay for some folks who work in the field.) So, the administration told Ballard it'd pick up the bill. But, officials wanted something back.

So, Ballard was told to cut $70,000 from his budget. County Mayor Tim Burchett really didn't care where the cuts came from – he just wanted them made. Hey, that's a fair deal right? I give you $433K and you give me $70K. Doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense, but anyway.

Ballard's people met with the mayor's finance people and tell them that maybe the staff could reduce its hours from 37.5 to 30 hours per week, which would enable them to keep their benefits. (By the way, the whole idea of cutting hours was apparently based on county Commissioner Mike Brown's proposal that never got further than an email sent to the his fellow buds on the dais. But I digress.)

Now, Ballard says he held two meetings and asked for volunteers. He said six folks said they wanted to do it while another three said they “preferred to say but would cut their hours if it comes down to it.” (I keep hearing there was a tenth person wholater refused.)

OK, in the meantime, Ballard says before that he say cut his auto allowance from $7,200 to $3,600 – about the same as the county commission's allowance (and if you recall, commissioners made a big rumble about reinstating all of the mayor's cuts, but really only reinstated their own gas money.)

Soooo, Ballard says The Big Dog (that's Mayor Burchett to you) without telling him cut his auto cut down to ZERO. And he didn't find out about that until Burchett publicly unveiled his proposed budget back in mid-May. (That mayor. Funny guy. Heh. Didn't tell Ballard he took away his allowance. Heh.)

Anyhoo, Ballard says he made the savings when he made the salary cuts. Now, human resources records show that if he reduced the salaries to 30 hours, then it would save $61,900. That's not the $70,000 that the mayor asked for, but whatever. Maybe there's some Social Security contributions or something thrown in.

(By the way, the nine people make between $28,000 and $48,000, as I recall, according to some documents that I don't have in front of me at the moment.)

Anyway, Ballard then goes and talks to the fine folks in the county's finance department and asks if he can reinstate his auto allowance. They tell him: “Sure.”

So he does.

Truth be told, Burchett really doesn't have the power to cut his allowance. And Phil mentioned that many, many, many, many times in our conversation. But, I was curious why he didn't just file for mileage reimbursement, like almost all of the folks in the executive branch and some of the fee officers now do.

“It's hard to keep up with,” Ballard told me. “And I didn't want to get into an argument about whether it's filled out correctly. Sometimes I'm at a store and someone asks me to come by and look at their property, and I didn't want to argue whether I was working or this was private thing or it was political or whatnot. Also, If I did reimbursement it would cost (the taxpayers) more because I drive around a lot – my office covers the entire county.”

Then he said that Burchett's proposal to cut the $70,000 really meant the mayor wanted him to cut two jobs. (Burchett denies this.)

“I'm taking care of my people,” Ballard said. “I saved jobs. This should make me a hero and not a goat.”

The mayor, though said: “It's unfortunate that he chose to take that route when families across the country are cutting back.The government allow him to reimburse himself and (the method) is cleaner and shows where we travel and puts it all on record.”

(Remember, Burchett hates the whole auto allowance thing. I wrote a kick-ass story about it right smack here.)

Ballard's says he technically took a pay cut when he cut his auto allowance in half.

I asked him if he had any savings left over after that, would maybe be spread it around to increase the employee hours, at least give an hour back if anyone wanted it.

He said he might.

Brian Hornback over at Shock and Awe had a post about the issue right here the other day. He's not buying anything that Ballard is selling. He thinks there's something else going on. He doesn't think Ballard is the hero.

He thinks he's the goat.

Me? I just like to throw this crap out there. See what sticks.


Anonymous said...

Why do you (or anybody else, for that matter) pay any attention to Hornback> He has zero crediblity. For example, he repeated the lie this week that Marshall Stair never voted in a city election, despite the fact that EC records show that he did indeed vote in both the 2005 and 2009 elections.


Anonymous said...

Seriously, Donila, you are far too respectful of Hornback. John Whitehead is Scooby Moore's father in law, and Hornback is a Scooby worshiper. I know you haven't been here long enough to know much abut Scooby, but you could look it up. Ballard's no prize, but he's somewhat less dirty than the old courthouse crowd, and Hornback's just a lame water-carrierfor that bunch.

Anonymous said...

so by cutting hours but maintaining benefits, doesn't that mean you need to work less for the benefits you receive????

Seems like more of a cost here and after all, it is usually in the way you look at it, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Just a note . . . . the property assessor hired a NEW employee this week. Cutting hours and hiring at the same time? Sounds fishy to me!