Shelby County’s mayor, sheriff and county commissioners will receive pay hikes next year after the County Commission approved the increases in separate votes Monday (Dec. 20).

by James Coleman —

Shelby County’s mayor, sheriff and county commissioners will receive pay hikes next year after the County Commission approved the increases in separate votes Monday (Dec. 20). 

Beginning when the elected officials start their terms on Sept. 1:

■ Commissioners are set to make $34,900, a $5,800 increase, after commissioner Van Turner Jr. scaled down his original resolution to lift compensation to $40,000. Commissioners currently make $29,100.

■ The county mayor will take home $210,000, up from $173,003. 

■ The sheriff will net $199,500, up from $164,765.

The mayor and sheriff’s raises represent a 21 percent jump. State law mandates the sheriff’s pay should range between 80-95 percent of the mayor’s pay. 

Van Turner Jr.

Regarding the commission pay raise, Turner said, “We work hard in order to meet the needs of this community… That’s taking time away from us providing for our families. While we could have been at our homes, or at our jobs or business earning money for our personal needs, we’ve been here to help provide for the community. That’s why I’m saying this is something that is right, of course I will not enjoy the benefit of this increase.” 

Turner, who is term-limited, will not be on the August ballot. There will be at least six new members on the commission next year because of term limits.

Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. and Mayor Lee Harris are up for re-election. Harris opposed the salary increase

The pay increase is long overdue in the eyes of some commissioners. A common refrain during the weeks-long-pay-raise debate was the current salaries are low in contrast to similar-sized counties across the nation and state.

Concerns also were voiced that the current salaries were not conducive to attracting candidates for public office. The last increase was in 2010. 

Neither vote went off without a hitch. For starters, the appearance of self-dealing a raise, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic wave, made some commissioners skittish.

“I think the effort is really noble. I think sponsorship on both these items absolutely makes a lot of sense. For me, I feel like it’s not the right time to do this.

“Many people are struggling with the pandemic … We are still in the midst of a pandemic. There are many other challenges we ought to be focused on,” said Commissioner Michael Whaley.

Whaley offered an amendment to bring the number down further to $31,700. It failed by a 4-5-3 margin.

Commissioner Eddie Jones said, “The numbers may be pleasing on one side, but at the end of the day, when you break it down, there’s not that much difference. I would say, however you all decide, because it’s not that big a difference. If you are going to vote for $31,700 you might as well vote for $34,900.” 

The resolution ultimately passed on a 10-2 vote. Commissioners Mick Wright and Brandon Morrison abstained. Commissioner Tami Sawyer missed the vote. 

An effort to send the raise of the sheriff, and by extension the mayor, back to committee also was thwarted. 

Willie F. Brooks Jr.

The move was pitched by Chairman Willie F. Brooks Jr., who proposed an HR study to compare the salary of Bonner to counterparts. Brooks also pondered the merit of the raise, considering many of the county’s suburban towns have their own police departments. 

Mark Billingsley

Commissioner Mark Billingsley defended Bonner, the county’s first elected African-American sheriff, citing the county’s ongoing problems with crime and its accompanying workload.

Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr. also disagreed with Brooks. “We’re down here for the sixth time…The due diligence has been done…I appreciate you saying you want more clarity on this, that and the other…I don’t need an independent HR company or whatever the case may be.”

Only Brooks voted in favor of his amendment. It was followed by a vote on the resolution, which passed 11-1. Whaley was the lone no vote. Sawyer also missed this vote.