Hutchins Sues Mayor and City Over Pay Dispute

February 23, 2009
by: 
Dwayne Page

Smithville Police Investigator Jerry D. Hutchins, Jr. has filed a Circuit Court lawsuit against Mayor Taft Hendrixson and the Municipal Government of the City of Smithville over a pay dispute.

Hutchins, son of Smithville Alderman Jerry Hutchins, Sr., claims he should have been compensated at $17.19 per hour, as approved by the aldermen last year, and that Mayor Hendrixson had no authority to cast a veto in this matter, since only the aldermen can hire and set the rate of pay for employees as part of the hiring process under city laws.

He is being represented by Lebanon Attorney Adam Parrish

On January, 29th 2008, the aldermen voted 3 to 1, in a special meeting, to hire Hutchins as Police Investigator over Mayor Hendrixson's objections that neither Hutchins nor the other two applicants for the job met the city's qualifications. Police Chief Richard Jennings said Hutchins was qualified as an investigator and recommended him. Aldermen Willie Thomas, Tonya Sullivan, and Jerry Hutchins, Sr. voted for Hutchins. Alderman Steve White voted against him. Alderman Cecil Burger was absent. Alderman Hutchins stated his "personal interest" for the record but voted for his son stating he was voting his conscience. But while Hutchins was hired, the aldermen did not address his rate of pay. (Click here to read the full account of the January 29th, 2008 story at http://www.wjle.com/node/3672)

On February 18th, 2008, the board initially voted 3 to 2 to set Hutchins' pay at $15.95 and increase it to $17.19 after sixty days on the job. Aldermen Thomas, Sullivan, and Hutchins voted for it but Aldermen White and Burger voted against it. Mayor Hendrixson cast a veto of the board's action saying starting Hutchins' pay above other employees in the department was unfair. As a compromise, the board voted 5 to 0 to start Hutchins at a sergeant's rate of pay, $11.89 per hour and increase it to $13.13 per hour after sixty days until a pay scale could be established for the "investigator" position. According to the 2008-09 city budget, Hutchins, with the annual cost of living adjustment, is now making $13.70 per hour, apparently still the same as a sergeants pay rate. (Click here to read the full account of the February 18th, 2008 story at http://www.wjle.com/node/3778)

The complaint states that prior to January, 2008, Hutchins was employed as a deputy in the Wilson County Sheriff's Department. After being advised of an opening in the Smithville Police Department, Hutchins, who had four years of prior law enforcement experience, applied for the job of police investigator and participated in a full interview process with the understanding that the position would pay $17.19 per hour, which the lawsuit alleges is the same rate as his predecessor Officer Steven Deffendoll was earning.

According to the lawsuit, Hutchins was ultimately approved for the job and was officially hired on January 28th, 2008. His official first day of employment was February 19th, 2008. Upon taking the job, Hutchins resigned from the Wilson County Sheriff's Department.

The complaint states that Hutchins' rate of pay was approved by a majority vote of the Board of Aldermen but Mayor Hendrixson vetoed it, which he had no authority to do, and proposed a rate of pay substantially lower than that previously offered to Hutchins. According to the lawsuit, Mayor Hendrixson's actions were due to Hutchins relationship to Alderman Hutchins and were made in bad faith and for no legitimate purpose.

The lawsuit further states that the board adopted a temporary pay rate and reserved the matter for an additional hearing on March 3rd, 2008. Hutchins received some relief and his rate of pay was increased slightly to $13.13 per hour.

Hutchins claims that the defendants by and through their agents represented to him that the position of Police Investigator was to be compensated at a rate of $17.19 per hour and that he (Hutchins) relied on that information when he resigned from one position (Wilson County Sheriff's Department) to accept the job offered by the city (Smithville). Hutchins further claims that since the defendants, by and through their agents, have refused to pay him at the rate of pay represented, he has suffered a pecuniary loss entitling him to damages.

Hutchins is asking that the court find the defendants directly, individually, and vicariously liable for the injuries he has sustained; that the court award a judgment against the defendants in an amount deemed just and adequate to compensate him for injuries; that the court award a judgment for punitive damages in an amount to be determined by the trier of fact; and that the court award a judgment awarding attorney's fees and discretionary costs incurred in this action.

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