Newly-elected Criminal Court Clerk plans to roll back pay raises

Newly elected Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond said he will roll back the $181,760 in raises awarded by current clerk, Joy McCroskey, when he takes office in September. He also plans to have all 80 employees reapply for their positions.

According to documents obtained by WBIR 10News under the state open records act, McCroskey awarded nearly all of the employees a raise just three months before she leaves office.

Roughly 70 workers who earn between $27,744 and $72,400 annually will receive between a 3.4 percent and a 16 percent pay raise. The average bump amounts to about 8 percent, or roughly $2,753.

McCroskey has asked for the change to be retroactive to May 19.

An analysis of the records show that only eight employees, as well as McCroskey and her chief deputy, Janice Norman, who also is stepping down in September, won't get increases.

The pay raises, which were submitted on Wednesday, are pretty much a given, since McCroskey operates what the county calls a "fee office," meaning it's supposed to be self-sustaining through the court fees it collects.

Any money it receives first covers roughly $494,000 in monthly payroll, including benefits, and the rest is turned over to the county's general fund to help maintain overall day-to-day operations.

McCroskey, who took over the office in mid-2008, opted not to seek re-election after a WBIR 10News investigation revealed that a short supply of technology and training inside her office created a series of problems that led to wrongful arrests, cases set aside due to errors and residents temporarily losing their right to vote.

McCroskey, whose office is the official record keeper for Criminal Court, General Session Court, and Fourth Circuit Court, denied much of the allegations.

She did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond defeated two challengers in the county Republican Primary earlier this month for the criminal court clerk's seat. He doesn't have a Democratic challenger in the August General Election, so he will take office Sept. 2.

On Friday, Hammond said McCroskey is putting him in a difficult position, but he doesn't see any way he can keep the pay raises in place when he takes office.

"People have said, 'but you're going to look like the bad guy.' I say, 'well that's what the voters voted me to do was to get it fixed,'" Hammond said.

He added, "Bottom line I wish we didn't have to deal with this because I don't think its fair to the employees. I don't think it's fair to me and the people that are going to be coming in September. However, we are going to deal with it and we're going to deal with it in the proper way," Hammond said.

Hammond said he was hoping to focus his attention on updating the office's outdated systems.

He also plans to ask for an internal audit to see where every dime is being spent. He found the office spent more than $27,000 on office chairs. The majority of the chairs cost around $300 each, but she paid $1,225 each for two of the chairs.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett did not include raises for general county employees in his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Superintendent Jim McIntyre included a 2.5 percent increase for teachers in his proposed spending plan, although he wanted the county to cover much of it. County leaders declined, leaving McIntyre to revisit the proposal.

Burchett on Thursday called the raises McCroskey implemented "disappointing."

"This is just another example of these fiefdoms (and) we need to get past that in county government," he said. "It's unfortunate . . . but apparently there is nothing I can do."


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