Sumner County Human Resources department survives cut — for the time being

A move by the county commission to dissolve the department is on hold for six months

By: - June 7, 2023 6:33 am
The Sumner County Courthouse. (Photo: Sumner County Chancery Court)

The Sumner County Courthouse. (Photo: Sumner County Chancery Court)

Sumner County Commissioners have agreed to continue funding the county’s human resources department through the end of this year, temporarily backing off a plan to dissolve the department, fire its director and leave county employees without a dedicated HR team.

The reversal came after County Mayor John Isbell suggested that he and other county leaders, including HR Director Cheryl Lewis-Smith, map out a plan to “build an HR department that would serve the needs of Sumner County employees.”

Members of the county’s budget committee on Monday agreed to extend funding for the department through December — the first half of the county’s fiscal year — while reserving the remaining annual budget to be redistributed to outside consultants or other departments should commissioners move forward with scrapping the department.

Sumner County Commission poised to scrap county human resources department

The scrutiny of the county’s HR department came as part of the annual budget-making process, which this year is being led for the first time by a new slate of county leaders elected last August in a “Constitutional Republican” sweep of Sumner County public offices. The political group campaigned against longtime Republicans, pledged to establish a Christian foundation for governance and get rid of bloat in local government.

The HR department drew criticism for being ineffective in completing basic tasks including creating personnel policies and writing job descriptions, but commissioners also readily conceded they did not know all the responsibilities the department had.

Commissioners also questioned how, in the public sector, a human resources department could create personnel policies and then require constitutional officers, such as the county sheriff, to abide by them.

“There’s no enforcement mechanism,” said Commissioner Matthew Shoaf.

For her part, Lewis-Smith explained the range of responsibilities — among them, family and medical leave, negotiating with health insurers, overseeing workplace injury reports and workplace complaints — and suggested that she had been thwarted from performing her duties by other department heads.

Lewis-Smith also questioned if she was being targeted because of her race, her age or her efforts to carry out her duties. Lewis-Smith, 58, is Black.

On Monday, Lewis-Smith also made a plea for more notice before eliminating her job, detailing personal and family health problems and responsibilities.

The commissioners agreed to review the need for the department by year’s end.

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.