18 employees already received combined $143,000 in payouts

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Embattled Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey is seeking as much as $10,000 from the county for unused sick leave she accrued before taking office more than five years ago.

The request stems from a county policy that took effect last July. So far, 18 employees have been paid a combined $143,140.

Another four workers, including McCroskey and her chief deputy, Janice Norman, have submitted payment requests. Norman, who joined the county in 1968, said her last day is Aug. 29, and McCroskey is leaving Aug. 31.

County leaders, however, say the neither should be eligible, based on the ordinance that established the policy to pay for unused sick leave. Some officials also took McCroskey to task, saying her attendance in recent years is already suspect at best.

The ordinance was approved by the Knox County Commission last spring. At the time, its sponsors, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Commissioner Amy Broyles said they created it to increase productivity and reward long-tenured workers.

Under the plan, employees who work 40 hours per week receive $100 per hour hours of accumulated sick leave up to $10,000, so long as they give a 60-day written notice of their retirement day.

Employees who work 37.5-hour weeks receive $100 per 7.5 hours of accumulated sick leave up to $10,000.

Those who submit retirement notice less than 60 days before leaving can receive up to $6,000 total.

The regulation applies only to those employees who meet the county's retirement qualifications, and doesn't apply to those who quit or are fired.

In addition, the ordinance says the policy applies only to those employees whose annual sick leave is "maintained by the county's payroll system."

The Criminal Court Clerk's office handles its own payroll and is not on the county's system.

McCroskey joined the criminal court clerk's office in June 1967 and spent four decades working her way to the top. She became clerk, an elected position, in July 2008 and won re-election in 2010.

Her current four-year term ends Aug. 31, and earlier this year she opted not to seek re-election in the wake of a WBIR 10News investigation that revealed systemic problems originating from her office that led to dozens of wrongful arrests.

As an elected official, McCroskey does not accrue annual leave or sick leave and does not have to fill in a time card or even keep a schedule to collect her $125,000-a-year-salary.

McCroskey, though, is trying to retroactively seek unused sick leave for a position she quit in 2008 before taking office.

Broyles said McCroskey was in a "unique situation," but "it doesn't feel right" to pay her.

"It doesn't seem like it would be something we'd be able to do," she said. "My gut feeling is that would be that would be the wrong thing to do. Something feels wrong about that."

Knox County Commission Chairman Brad Anders said that the requests by McCroskey and Norman "don't appear on its face to pass muster because of the ordinance that requires them to be on the payroll."

Burchett agreed.

"Our HR folks have told us that she's not entitled to it," he said, adding that he will also defer to the county law department.

Knox County Law Director Richard "Bud" Armstrong on Tuesday said he's researching the matter.

MCroskey did not return calls seeking comment.

Officials also told 10News that they continue to be unimpressed with McCroskey's attendance in office, which has been somewhat erratic during the past couple of years.

Entry data for the downtown City County Building where she works cannot account for her presence in the building for more than half of 2012.

McCroskey, like all employees who work there, uses a swipe card that leaves behind an electronic record when entering the building. And those records also suggest that last year, McCroskey rarely worked a full business week, missing nearly half of all Fridays.

McCroskey has said that some of her absences were due to two back surgeries in February and May of 2012, but she's uncertain how long they kept her out of the office. She also has said that she was out for six weeks in 2013 because of an additional surgery.

The trend has continued into this year, too, according to records. From January through March, she has taken a day off, on average, every week, in addition to her weekends, according to her swipe cards.

At this point it is not known how many unused sick days she is seeking from her time before she was elected. County human resources officials said McCroskey's office keeps the information.

The Criminal Court Clerk's Office serves as the official record keeper for Criminal Court, General Session Court, and Fourth Circuit Court.

Republicans Mike Hammond, Steve Williams, and Jason Hunnicutt are running for the seat. No Democratic candidates are on the ballot, so the election will be determined in May.

McCroskey's successor will be sworn in on Sept. 1.

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