New magistrates, wage increases, an overhaul of Cherokee Park, money to treat drug problems and more were addressed during a busy Hamblen County Commission Committees meeting on Monday night.
General Sessions Court Judge Doug Collins made the case that three full-time and two part-time magistrates to help with bond and booking issues would be worthwhile.
“For as long as I’ve been around, what’s gone on in the past is that during the day hours, some clerk will usually sign the warrant and then set a bond or a cite or something like that,” Collins said. “In the evening, after hours, we’ve traditionally have had a night clerk. The night clerk receives a call from the officer and will come in and look over the warrant or the summons, sign it, and then either cite the person or set some kind of bond.”
Collins said the current process does not allow the warrant and bond processing to be as thorough as it should be. He said the positions will relieve the county clerk’s office and ensure state regulations are met.
The magistrate positions are projected to have an annual cost of $183,414.
The motion to approve the creation of the positions passed and will go on to the full commission for final approval.
The finance committee approved a plan to increase the wages of both highway department and garbage collection employees by $2.50 per hour.
Barry Poole, road superintendent, said employees have been taking other, better-paying jobs, including with the city of Morristown doing the same type of work, and that roadside brush pickup was behind due to the labor shortage.
“Ya’ll know how much there is to collect out there, so this has gotten more and more urgent,” Poole said.
“This is the most tangible service our county provides- door to door garbage pickup,” Commissioner Chris Cutshaw said. “And we’re on the cusp of a serious problem. I feel like we need to take care of these guys and stop the bleeding at the bottom.”
The motion to raise wages for sanitation and highway department employee wages passed unanimously.
A motion to accept money from the ENDO drug settlement was passed. The money will be used to help tackle local drug problems.
American Rescue Plan money will be used, if possible, to supplement matching grants to bring “sweeping improvements” to Cherokee Park.
The planned improvements include a new roof for the amphitheater, redesign and expansion of the campground, extending walking trails and installing shade over playgrounds and more.
Tony Petit, construction management for the justice center/jail project, was present to give an update on the project.
He said Caddell Construction out of Montgomery, Alabama had been added as a pre-approved bidder for the project, joining 4 others that had submitted bids the first time in the spring.
He said bids had been sent out and are due back for opening on October 14.
The personnel committee looked into the issue of establishing a sergeant at arms position for the Commission.
Commission Chair Howard Shipley said the county advisory service, CTAS, had opined that enforcing commission rules was not the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office is primarily responsible for orderly conduct and security. The motion to establish such a position was tabled for further study.
The proposal was made more relevant having come on the heels of a contentious public comment section of the meeting earlier in the evening.
Commission rules prohibit the presence of placards or signage in the courtroom during commission and committee sessions, while making allowances for clothing.
Several people had attached signs, handwritten with permanent markers on construction paper, temporarily attached to their clothing via safety pins, ribbons around their neck or other means. The signs expressed objections to the cost of the jail project.
After the first participant approached the podium with the affixed sign, she was told to remove what Shipley referred to as a “placard.” She refused and appeared to suggest that the signage was not signage.
“I do not have a sign, per se, around my neck, and I can prove it,” she said glaring at the commission and daring a sheriff’s office employee to remove the sign. “I have a right to speak and this is not a placard.”
She said the sign was part of her shirt and she would not strip.
“Let’s handle it this way, we refer this to the county attorney and file a lawsuit against all the people wearing a placard around their neck today,” Shipley said. “We’ll let the judge enforce the rules.”
A motion to file such a suit was proposed and seconded.
The motion passed 9 to 4.
After the exchange, the Commission largely ignored the signs affixed to shirts in the courtroom and continued on with their business.