County commissioners probe request for 78 new county jobs weeks after hiring freeze enacted

County commissioners probe request for 78 new county jobs weeks after hiring freeze enacted

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Last month, Shelby County Commissioners enacted a hiring freeze in response to the economic squeeze from COVID-19. But now some commissioners want to know why county officials are trying to add positions just weeks after the freeze went into effect.

“What took us from people are going to be out in the streets to the candy store is open,” asked Shelby County Commissioner Edmund Ford, Jr.

Ford was one of multiple commissioners Wednesday wanting to know more details about a proposal to add 78 county jobs across varying departments as exemptions to the commission’s hiring freeze put in place last month.

“What is the process that we’re using to make decisions based on what is presented to us,” asked Shelby County Commissioner Michael Whaley.

The county’s budget cycle this spring between Mayor Lee Harris and the Shelby County Commission was acrimonious at times and drawn out, with a final budget passed in late June.

In April, Harris told commissioners layoffs were on the table.

“We have to make sure that the commission and the public has notice that there is a real possibility that there will be layoffs,” Harris said at the time.

Ford said he and other commissioners want to know what changed.

“Talking about the sky is falling, now we have money set aside to hire 20 here, 30 here, 50 here. If I was reading a book and read one chapter to another about what’s going on, I don’t know if I”m reading the same book,” said Ford.

The county’s chief administrative officer, Dwan Gilliom, told commissioners Wednesday layoffs are not expected. County officials added that despite the hiring freeze departments are continuing to ask for job re-classifications, promotions and new positions.

“These 78 positions are probably just a drop in the bucket when you look at the number of personnel requests that have been submitted to HR in recent months,” Gilliom said. “There is no reason to suspect layoffs at a later date, as long as we continue to be responsible.”

Commissioners indicated they would discuss the proposal in more detail in their full meeting Monday.

WMC Action News 5 asked Gilliom for an on-camera interview, and he declined saying media requests must go through the mayor’s office. Gilliom is in charge of day-to-day county government operations as the highest non-elected official in Shelby County Government.

WMC Action News 5 sent an inquiry to the county’s public information officer but did not receive a response as of press time.

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