$59,000 for substitute magistrates questioned at commission meeting

By Mike Steely

Senior Writer


“Line Item Transfers” on the agenda refer to the moving of funds from one part of the Knox County budget to another and are normally approved without question by the commission. But last week’s work session saw that item pulled for a discussion.

Knox County Commissioner John Schoonmaker called out the $59,000 requested by the General Sessions Court to cover substitute magistrate judges. There are five magistrates in Knox County and basically, those judges issue arrest and search warrants, appoint attorneys for indigent defendants, set and approve bonds, and set bonds for the circuit court judges and chancellors in cases involving violations of orders of protection.

Schoonmaker asked Finance Director Chris Caldwell if funds for substitute magistrates are set in the county budget and Caldwell responded the funds are set if the court requests them. He added that magistrates come under the county’s vacation and sick leave policies but that a senior employee could take as much as a month off.

Caldwell said that the request for $59,000 is above and beyond the current magistrate budget and added that the magistrates are not tracked as closely as other county department employees.

Law Director David Buuck said the commission appoints the magistrates but added, “They go under their own handbook.”

Schoonmaker asked if Caldwell could track the substitute magistrate appropriations for the past few years and report back to the regular meeting. He also asked that the current magistrates, Christopher Rowe, Ray Jenkins, Dustin Dunham, Robert Cole and Sharon Frankenberg, attend the meeting Monday.

Commission Larson Jay said the magistrate budget “has been blown year after year” and Commissioner Carson Dailey asked who sets their salary. Caldwell replied the commission does in its regular budget appropriations. Schoonmaker suggested there needs to be some oversight by the commission.

In other action, Commissioners Carson Dailey and Courtney Durrett said they were concerned that the loss of federal funds for all school lunches might hurt local children. The reply was that students who qualify and certain schools will continue to receive lunches.

The commission postponed any action on the closing of part of Old Tazewell Pike. Chairman Richie Beeler requested it be delayed until the state conducts a traffic study.

The commissioners also heard reports from the Advance Knoxville Project and the Alcoa Highway Corridor Plan. Passed along to the regular meeting for today were honoring retired School Superintendent Bob Thomas upon his retirement, Dr. Russ Frazier for his public service, Donny Farinato for becoming an Eagle Scout and declaring July as Parks and Recreation Month.

Also moved to today’s regular commission meeting, following a public hearing, is an ordinance change moving Development Projects approvals from the purview of the Board of Zoning Appeals to the courts.