Citing a growing frustration with the Sumner County Commission’s unwillingness to pay her employees a comparable wage, Sumner County Administrator of Elections Lori Atchley has resigned from the post she has held since 2011. Atchley’s resignation will become effective Nov. 18.
“I have attempted since my appointment in 2011 to have the pay of my staff commensurate with their knowledge, experience and time on the job,” Atchley says in a resignation letter to Election Commission members dated Sept. 16.
Atchley goes on to say that she inherited a system from the previous administration that was manipulated in order to hire a family member while also leveling the pay for all the staff to $22,500 per year, or $11.7 an hour.
“I based my conclusions on multiple analyses of other similar sized election commissions and other departments within Sumner County,” she said. “Typically salaries in government or corporate environment are tiered based on time of service and level of responsibility.”
Atchley, 53, says she has presented this information to the county’s budget committee every year since her appointment, but her multiple requests have fallen on deaf ears.
Her staff is comprised of five full-time employees and several part-time employees. Atchley notes her requests don’t include a pay increase for her position.
Atchley says she requested $53,000 for the 2019-20 budget year to bring the salaries to the lowest level of wages compared to similar election offices and other departments within the county, but was only allocated $13,000.
“While I am pleased that the teachers in the county received a pay increase to assist in recruiting and retaining those positions, I do not understand why the election commission employees who are responsible for running elections for every office in the county are considered less valuable,” she wrote.
Director of Schools Del Phillips first proposed $4,000-a-year raises for the school system’s 2,200 certified employees during a School Board study session on Aug. 6. Phillips said the raises were needed in order to be able to compete with neighboring counties when recruiting and retaining qualified teachers.
The county’s Budget Committee recommended the $8.8 million expenditure on Aug. 12. On Aug. 19, the full commission voted to set the county’s tax rate 33 cents above the revenue-neutral rate with roughly 12 cents designated to fund the teacher raises.
“I’d been trying to get salaries for my staff where they needed to be, and then they went and gave the teachers raises,” Atchley said during a phone conversation on Tuesday. “It’s been a very frustrating experience.”
Budget Committee Chairman Chris Taylor says the budget committee met and used the comparative information Atchley provided and came up with a fair raise of 12 percent for election office employees.
“Her budget was increased more than anyone else’s budget,” said Taylor.
Atchley acknowledged that her department employees received a seven percent raise as well as the same five percent cost of living increase all county employees received.
“I may have received more,” she said. “But it’s still way below what other election office employees in other counties are making as well as what other county employees make.”
She said the average salary is less than $28,000-a-year and that employees who have been in the office for nine and 10 years make the same as a new employee.
Atchley says she looked at Rutherford, Wilson, Robertson and Montgomery counties, and that employees in her office are paid well under what employees in those counties make.
“We didn’t take her analysis because the numbers were very disproportionate compared to the numbers we found in the same counties,” said Taylor.
Taylor said the county still plans to hire an independent consultant to conduct a pay study of election office employees.
The county does not have its own human resources department.
Chairman: Atchley will be missed
Sumner County Election Commission Chairman M. Allen Ehmling says Atchley will be missed.
“We were dismayed to get her letter and sad that she’s moving on,” he said. “We hate to lose her. She was a true asset to both the office and the county.”
The election commission is comprised of five members appointed by the state election commission upon the recommendation of the county’s state representatives. There are three Republican members and two members are Democrats. They will appoint the next administrator of elections.
Atchley, who also served for 10 years on the Hendersonville Planning Commission, says she plans to return to her career in construction and development.
“I’m going to go back to my roots,” she said.
Atchley said she’s proud of the work she’s done for the last eight years. She’s worked hard to make voting more accessible for all residents, she added.
“We’ve consistently put policies and procedures in place to make it easier to vote,” she said. Most recently her office has worked hard to find a consistent early voting location for Hendersonville voters.
She said the Hendersonville Church of Christ has agreed to let the county use the facility it owns next to the church on Rockland Road.
Atchley says she hopes the eight years she spent in the office isn’t overshadowed by her willingness to speak up for election office employees.
“I don’t want to leave under any controversy, but I want the facts out there about them not wanting to pay my staff,” she said.
The Sumner County Election Commission is accepting resumes for the Administrator of Elections position. Resumes must be received no later than 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4 and may be submitted to the Sumner County Election Commission office in person, by mail to 355 N. Belvedere Dr., Room 106, Gallatin, Tenn. 37066 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The election commission will meet next on Oct. 8 to discuss potential candidates for the position.