Knox County Commission Vice Chairman R. Larry Smith wants the county to cut its bonus payment program for employees who complete the state's certified public administrator training initiative.
Instead, he added, employees should receive bonuses based on promotions – not completing educational coursework.
"Constituents are telling me that they don't want to pay these bonuses just because they took a two-day refresher course when they, themselves, take continuing education," Smith said. "Look, I don't mind if the county pays them to take the course, but the problem I have is that some businesses pay people to take continuing education but they sure don't give them a bonus."
The commission is expected to address the matter during its October 21 work session.
"I don't know if I've formed an opinion about it yet," said commission Chairman Brad Anders. "I think on one hand that it sounds excessive, but what concerns me is that the commission would tell another completely separate officeholder what they can do with their payroll."
The program for years was popular among a number of county leaders, particularly the fee offices.
But, in December 2010 – a few months after he took office – then-Trustee John Duncan III paid five workers each $3,000 for classes that they never completed. He did it again a year later.
The media picked up on the illegal payments and eventually Duncan and two members of his staff pleaded guilty for various offenses connected to the bonuses, and later resigned.
His successor, Craig Leuthold, said he will not pay the bonuses but said his workers can take the courses.
In fiscal year 2013, which ended in June, the county paid $1,000 each to 10 employees who recertified their status as a certified public administrator, including five workers in the Criminal Court Clerk's Office and five in the Register of Deeds Office.
Knox County Register of Deeds Sherry Witt said she isn't paying employees this year to recertify and has "no plans to do so in the future."
"Now, are we still sending people? Yes, because it's not about the incentive – it's about being better county employees," she said. "It's been valuable to our office. At one time, when the program first started, there weren't incentives and people still wanted to go. Every business I know has some kind of continuing education."
Witt, who does not always see eye-to-eye with Smith, said she wished that he would participate in the program, so he'd "start talking about economic development and bringing jobs to the area instead of picking on businesses and requiring people who have licenses to do garage sales."
"This is Mickey Mouse," she said.
CTAS brochure: The ins, outs, and costs of the certified training program
Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey said she spoke with Smith on Wednesday and "if that's what (the commission) feels they need to do, then I'm not going to object to it."
"When I first went through the program, there was never any mention of payment," she said. "We did it because we wanted to learn about the government. I think it's a very worthwhile course and I think Larry does, too, but he doesn't think they need to be compensated for it."
She added: "I know that my people have worked very hard and that they have done it by the book."
State code allows for an annual incentive up to $3,000 for those who receive the certification. The state typically pays as much as $1,500 to elected officials, but the county is expected to pick up the tab for non-elected workers.
The certification is administered by the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Services, or CTAS, and includes 60 hours of courses and several exams designed to teach officials the fundamentals of serving the public. They also have to complete a three-day "capstone" forum and pass an exam.
Officials must complete 16 hours of training each year to remain certified.
The program costs $300 to enroll and another $300 for to attend the forum. Recertification also costs $300, but is valid for four years.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who ended the payment program for executive branch employees when he took office in September 2010, said he didn't want to interfere with other elected officials.
"It's up to the individual officeholders," he said. "If they choose to do it and monitor it correctly, then I don't have a problem with it."