The Board of Supervisors opened their Monday meeting with a prayer for domestic violence victims and the families of state law enforcement officers who were victims of violence over the weekend … And then all hell broke loose.
Sheriff Alex Hodge’s request for pay raises for his employees was denied by the board, which led to some raised voices near the end of the meeting.
“It’s Oct. 1, this is a new budget, so I’m not over budget,” Hodge said when asking the board why the raises weren’t allowed.
Board President Jerome Wyatt responded, “As of today, you’ve overspent.”
Hodge shot back, “You don’t tell me how to spend the money.”
Chief Financial Officer Charles Miller said that the sheriff was already $620,000 over budget, and that’s why the extra money for raises wasn’t approved by the board.
“You’ve got a budget to go by,” Wyatt told the sheriff.
When supervisors went into a closed-door meeting on another matter, Miller and Hodge continued to argue about the budget outside the boardroom.
“You’re trying to manipulate the system,” Miller told Hodge. “If you get the raises right now, you’ll run out of money by the middle of December. Are you ready to send deputies home?”
When the board came back into open session, the argument continued. Hodge said that he has the money in his budget “today” to give his employees raises. Wyatt told Hodge he would have to redo his budget in order to include the raises he submitted to the board.
“You don’t have the money in your budget today,” Wyatt responded. “You have a deficit of $620,000.”
Hodge continued to argue that it was the first day of the new fiscal year.
“I’m not over budget, I can spend as I deem necessary,” Hodge said.
Chief Administrative Officer Danielle Ashley said, “The board controls the purse strings of every department, and we know you will be over with this budget.”
Hodge shot back, “I don’t work for y’all.”
Maj. Jamie Tedford told the board that they had already approved “step raises” for employees and he had already told them they were getting the pay increases.
“You don’t have (the money),” Wyatt said. “You refuse to honor your budget … this meeting’s adjourned.”
Hodge said he had their response “on record,” pointing toward employees Allyson Knotts and Sgt. Jessica Welborn, who were taking cellphone video of the proceedings on Facebook Live.
The sheriff’s request for the raises was included in employee status forms that are submitted to supervisors before each meeting. Status forms include personnel moves by different department heads and are usually rubber-stamped as part of the consent agenda in every meeting.
After the meeting, Miller and Ashley said they couldn’t approve the raises because they know that the increased salaries will cause the sheriff’s department to go over budget.
“(Hodge) wants to blame somebody for his mismanagement,” Wyatt said. “We would be negligent in our duty if we approved the raises. He’s telling us it’s his intention to overspend.”
The board and sheriff have been in a highly publicized battle over the budget for several weeks. Hodge requested $8.3 million for Fiscal Year 2019, but the board budgeted $5.77 million for him to run his department and two jails. That was $615,000 less than all of the operations were at at the beginning of September, when the budget was approved unanimously by the board.
At the beginning of the meeting, Wyatt read a proclamation in support of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and heard from Sgt. Priscilla Breland of the Jones County Sheriff’s Department and Becky Stewart, executive director of the Domestic Abuse Family Shelter.
Jones County Circuit Court Judge Dal Williamson said a prayer for the victims of domestic violence and the families of three officers who lost their lives over the weekend — two in Brookhaven and a state trooper in Tippah County.