Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Before Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland was first elected as sheriff in 2002, he had previously served 12 years as a deputy. He had accrued 12 years of annual sick leave and vacation pay, but when he took his oath of office as a elected official, he became ineligible to continue generating those benefits.
Macon County’s current personnel policy provides annual sick leave and vacation accrual time for all salaried employees, with the exception of the sheriff and Todd Raby, the register of deeds. As elected officials who are also on a salary, there are no set hours of work for the positions, therefore Macon County has historically not provided the positions with the benefit of accruing vacation time and sick leave, because they are permitted to come and go as they please, no clocking in and and out necessary.
A resolution currently proposed to the Macon County Board of Commissioners would change that, and give the sheriff and register of deeds the same consideration as all other county employees.
“I feel these two positions should have the same benefits as every other employee of the county,” said Sheriff Robert Holland. “This is a benefit I had prior to being elected sheriff and feel that when taken away as policy required was the same as penalizing me for being elected. I’m not asking to be treated differently or special. For 15 years I have been denied a benefit that all my employees and every other county employee has received. I have spent several years attempting to have this corrected and until now has failed. I appreciate the fact our county manager saw fit to ask our commissioners to take a closer look at this issue and consider a change in our current county policy. I can never get back the 15 years that I have I lost.”
As salaried employees, both Raby and Holland don’t work specific hours, and are not eligible for overtime. If the policy change is approved by commissioners, Raby and Holland would both be required to produce time sheets for the county, something they currently do not do. While they would be paid the same salary regardless of time off, they would be required to use the vacation time or sick leave they accrue. Whatever they don’t use while in office, would benefit them in terms of retirement purposes. Macon County’s human resource policy allows for accrued vacation time to either, A) go toward early retirement, or B) provide the employee with a pay out at the end of their tenure with the county, based on what they have earned during their career.
The county’s policy states that employees can generate annual leave time based on their years of service. For employees who have worked for less than two years, they earn six hours and 40 minutes each month toward annual leave time. More than two years but less than five years earns eight hours a month; five to 10 earns 10 hours a month; 10 to 15 years 12 hours; 15 to 20 earns 14 hours; and employees serving 20 years or more earn 16 hours a month.
Holland said talking with his counterparts in N.C., Macon County stands as one of the few counties in the state that do not provide the benefit to elected officials.
“Jackson County allows for the elected sheriff and register of deeds to accrue both vacation and sick leave,” said Danielle Wittekind, HR Director for Jackson County. “These two positions accrue leave in accordance with the Jackson County policy to include accrual of 12 days of sick leave per year and accrual of vacation leave is based on service.”
Unlike Macon County, Jackson County requires the elected officials to produce a time sheet, something that would change if the new policy is approved.
“Both the sheriff and register of deeds report hours used for sick leave and vacation leave purposes when time is missed,” said Wittekind. “This use of leave is reported to payroll when used and is deducted from their leave balances. As with all county employees, both the sheriff and register of deeds are eligible to use unused sick leave for service in the retirement system and unused vacation leave (up to 30 days) is paid out upon separation of the county.”
Both Buncombe County and Henderson County also provide the sheriff and register of deeds in their respective counties with the same benefits as every other county employee.
Neither Clay or Cherokee County provide their elected officials with leave or sick time.
“Our policy does not provide for the accrual of sick and vacation time for those elected positions,” said Randy Wiggins, Cherokee county manager. “As elected officials they really can come and go as they please and they have a salary that is not based on the number of hours they put in. This negates the need for accrual of and use of vacation time. The only benefit accrual of sick time would provide would be as it relates to counting toward creditable service for retirement purposes. If they were to accrue then I would think that you would also want to ensure that they also claimed it on those times when they were out sick and as elected officials there really would be no way to monitor or confirm that.”
According to Holland, he has reached out to his counterparts in Swain, Haywood, Randolph, Wilkes, Martin, Craven, Tyrell, Forsyth, Halifax, Burke, Mcdowell, Chatham, Carteret, Alamance, Moore, and Lincoln counties, and they all provide the same benefits to the sheriff as they do other county employees.
If the policy approved, the sheriff and register of deeds would still work the hours that their job demands, and while they would be able to accrue annual leave and sick pay, they would also have to start using it as needed. Although their salary won’t be impacted, they would be required to use the days they earn, which would ultimately be used at the end of their careers with the county to begin their retirement.
The Macon County Board of Commissioners will vote on the policy change during its April 4 meeting at the Macon County Courthouse.