Four Clark County Fiscal Court magistrates say Judge-Executive Henry Branham unilaterally approved pay increases for county employees, and they want a circuit court judge to declare that only fiscal court can authorize such action.
In a petition for declaratory judgment filed Thursday, magistrates Pamela Blackburn, Daniel Konstantopolous, Robert Blanton and Joe Graham say that the judge-executive “has no independent, unilateral authority to give pay increases,” and that “only the fiscal court, meeting as a quorum, can approve a pay increase for a Clark County Fiscal Court employee.”
Branham had no comment Friday, but County Attorney Brian Thomas said the pay increases were part of a budget approved by fiscal court, including the four magistrates who filed the petition.
“The actions of the county judge-executive were taken within the confines of an established and approved policy and procedure manual,” Thomas said. “The raises that were implemented fell within the budgeted items.”
Furthermore, Thomas said a staff attorney for the state Department of Local Government gave an opinion in December that the pay increases were appropriate.
The magistrates’ petition comes before an April 27 fiscal court meeting in which Branham will present a county budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year that starts July 1.
The petition discusses pay increases that happened in the current 2015-16 fiscal year that ends June 30. The petition says that an unauthorized increase in compensation “is capable of reoccurring, making this declaratory action necessary” to settle the legal principles to be applied.
That’s why the four magistrates want to get the issue settled now, Crosbie said.
In April and May 2015, Clark Fiscal Court held five budget workshops. No action was taken to award pay increases during those meetings.
Fiscal court eventually approved a budget that could afford a 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase but did not approve individual raises, the petition says.
The budget had line items for employee positions’ compensation such as “county treasurer salary” and “road engineer salary.”
On May 27, the court voted against a motion to raise the bi-weekly pay for County Treasurer Jerry Madden from $1,818.27 to $1,933.66. In that same meeting, the court also voted against a motion to raise the minimum starting salaries for hourly employees.
On June 24, more raises were proposed for 46 employees, and the court rejected each on 46 separate votes. On each vote, Blackburn, Blanton, Graham and Konstantopolous voted no while Branham and Magistrates Matt Brinegar and Sheila McCord voted yes. (Brinegar and McCord did not sign the petition seeking a declaratory judgment.)
Later, the petition says, Branham “arbitrarily and without consent or authority” directed the county treasurer to increase the pay in various amounts to various employees “according to his own appraisal.”
That conduct of the judge-executive “was not approved by the court as demonstrated by the absence of any order or minute approving his implemented increases,” the petition says.
Crosbie said Friday that “as far I know,” the four magistrates did not violate the open meetings law in determining to file the petition. Four magistrates represent a quorum of the seven-member fiscal court, and state law requires public notice of such meetings.
“I did not meet with any of them as a group,” Crosbie said. “Any communications were done individually. As far as I know, they have not met as a group to take legal action.”
No hearing on the petition has been scheduled yet before Clark Circuit Judge Jean Chenault Logue.