|Legal Opinion: |
Text of Document: From: Dennis Huffer
Date: March 6, 2002
Article XI, § 9 of the Tennessee Constitution has a provision prohibiting the General Assembly from adopting a local or private act that would alter a local officer's salary before the end of the term. This provision was meant to prohibit a form of ripper bills in which the legislators representing a city might get legislation passed to reduce or eliminate salaries for local officials they did not like. This constitutional provision is a constraint on the General Assembly only and would not prevent a local governing body from altering the salary if this is allowed by the charter. As you know, many charters set the salaries for certain officials such as the mayor, and in these cases the local governing body could not change the salary without a charter amendment, and the General Assembly would be prohibited by this constitutional provision from altering the salary before the present term expired. Your city's charter (Chapter No. 403 of the Private Acts of 1951 as amended) does not set the salary of the mayor. § 3.07 of the charter provides that "The salaries of all officers and employees of the city shall be fixed by resolution under a pay plan applying uniformly to all officers and employees having similar responsibilities and doing like work." Although it could be argued based upon certain language in this section that it was not intended to apply to the office of mayor and other offices created by the charter, there appears to be no other section in the charter dealing with salaries of officers. And under the plain language of the statute, it applies to "all officers." Therefore, this is the way the salary should be set. Curiously, your city has an ordinance setting compensation for the mayor and aldermen. This ordinance is codified as § 1-102 of your Municipal Code. This ordinance provides for compensation of $100.00 per monthly meeting and called meeting and $25.00 each for up to two (2) committee meetings for aldermen and up to four (4) for the mayor. Perhaps the City regards this pay as in addition to the salary. It would appear a better practice, however, to deal with compensation in one place rather than having piecemeal provisions scattered everywhere.
The state has a nepotism statute but it does not apply to municipalities. Therefore, if a municipality does not have a nepotism ordinance, nepotism is not prohibited. Your city does not have an ordinance prohibiting nepotism. I know from personal experience, however, that nepotism causes extremely bad problems in the workplace. In the situation in your city, the chief would have much more influence with his mother and wife on the board than the position of chief would normally carry. A solution, which is probably unacceptable practically as well as politically, would be for the mayor and aldermen to appoint another chief. Otherwise, there is probably no solution.