In only his second week in office, Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV told members of the Quorum Court Monday that he had information they needed to be aware of dealing with what he called “unfunded mandates” in excess of $100,000.
Specifically, he said requests for vacation pay, comp time and sick leave made by former employees total between $25,000 to $30,000 — and even $40,000 in one instance — “and it’s not happening.”
He also said he did not want to identify the people who have made the requests.
Wilkins said the county employee handbook stipulates that employees can carry over only 10 days of vacation time, while some of the submitted paperwork showed former employees claiming “a couple of years” of time.
Because of the situation, Wilkins said he has not filled all the positions in his office.
“I don’t believe in spending money we don’t have,” he said.
Wilkins said one of the first things he plans to change is the addition of a time clock, rather than the current situation where employees keep track of their own time, adding that the time clock was one of the recommendations from a legislative audit.
“If a person has worked here for three or four years, how can they have three or four hundred hours when they only accrue 10 days of vacation a year?” Wilkins said.
A member of his transition team, former Justice of the Peace Lloyd Franklin Jr., recommended that Wilkins seek a waiver of the county’s nepotism ordinance and hire his son, Henry “Hank” Wilkins V, but Wilkins pulled a proposed ordinances that would have permitted that prior to the meeting.
Before announcing his decision, Wilkins said his son, who is currently employed, would have had to take a pay cut, and that several attorneys he had consulted with said it would be permissible.
In explaining the situation regarding comp, vacation and sick leave pay, Franklin said that in the past, if an employee of the sheriff’s department, for example, left and was owed vacation or comp time, that pay slot would not be filled until the money to cover the vacation or comp time was used up.
“Some of the slots we couldn’t fill for a year,” Franklin said. “Right now he’s getting by with loaned employees from other departments, but going forward, he’s going to need assistance.”
Wilkins said the county attorney, as well as attorneys from the Arkansas Association of Counties Risk Management, and others, are looking into the situation.
“Right now, the judge’s office is in the discovery mode,” County Attorney Jackie Harris said.
“We’ve got to decide if we’re going to let them sue or pay out $100,000 or $150,000,” Wilkins said. “That’s insane.”
Justice of the Peace Dr. Conley Byrd said that no employee should be paid more than what the county handbook allows.
“That’s dangerous,” Byrd said.
“Under state law and county ordinances, the Quorum Court can not pay out money that is not earned,” Harris said.
Wilkins said he would keep members of the county’s legislative body informed of the situation as it develops.
In other business, the Quorum Court approved a resolution appointing Dr. Michael Stephens to a four-year term on the 911 Administrative Board and Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Deputy Chief Ernest Jones to a five-year term on the board to fill two vacancies.