JONESBORO —The Clayton County Sheriff’s Office is creating an official public information officer position to improve communications while eliminating other positions deemed unnecessary.
The sheriff’s office has supplemented pay to its spokesperson’s annual salary by $10,442 by giving her temporary assignment duties as a correctional officer, according to county finance documents.
And Public Information Officer Shegale Crute-Thurmond stands to get another salary boost of about another $7,816 per year — although this time permanently — if she is moved into the newly created official PIO position for the sheriff’s office.
Clayton County commissioners approved the position’s creation as part of several personnel changes requested by Sheriff Victor Hill’s office last week. The PIO position’s salary level was set at grade 23 step 1 Dec. 17. The starting salary for any grade 23 position is $43,359.59, according to the county’s fiscal year 2014 budget.
If Thurmond — who is still listed as the department’s PIO — is put in the permanent spokesperson’s position, it will mean her salary has increased by $18,257.85 through temporary assignments and position changes since she was hired nine and a half months ago.
The sheriff’s office requested the position as part of a list of jobs it asked the commission to create — while requesting the deletion of five others — in a Nov. 22 legislative request.
Officials in the sheriff’s office asserted in the request that duties, such as the ones performed by the PIO, were being “handled by personnel who were not being properly compensated for the performance of these duties.”
But the sheer fact that the Sheriff’s Office now has a dedicated PIO position is also something of an oddity. Although every county-level public safety agency has a designated PIO, those agencies rarely have someone whose sole function is to be a spokesperson.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, whose law enforcement career included a stint as the Clayton County Police Department’s PIO, said it’s not common to see a specific spokesperson position in that field.
“A PIO really doesn’t exist in law enforcement,” Turner said. “It’s a detective, or for instance when I was a PIO, I was a lieutenant and then captain. The position wasn’t classified for pay purposes through personnel as a public information officer. His is, with a specific pay grade.”
Therefore, the move last week to create a position solely intended to only handle PIO duties makes the Sheriff’s Office stand out among its public safety brethren in the county. Her second temporary assignment duty was still in effect when commissioners voted to created the Sheriff’s Office’s PIO position last week.
Higher pay through temporary assignments
As a result of the request to create a dedicated PIO position, Clayton News Daily decided to look a little deeper into this decision, and to find out what this might mean for the officer.
A look into the payroll department paperwork for Crute-Thurmond showed she was hired at one position and immediately received a temporary promotion to a higher-paying one.
Crute-Thurmond’s salary paperwork shows she was hired in March to be a service clerk at an annual salary of $25,101.74. The paperwork also shows she received a temporary assignment duty to be a correctional officer — a position intended to be used by the Sheriff’s Office to run the jail — at an annual salary of $35,543.87.
A temporary assignment duty, also known as a TAD, is in essence a temporary promotion to a higher position, with a date for when that person is to revert back to their previous position.
Crute-Thurmond’s TAD expired Sept. 11, and documents show she received a new TAD, again as a correctional officer at the same salary, the same day.
The documents indicate she hardly ever — if at all — worked for the salary at which she was hired. Payroll records show she has been paid $26,931.28 for about nine months of work, as of her last paycheck dated Dec. 12.
A corrections officer and a media consultant?
Crute-Thurmond, whose background is in public relations, was temporarily put into a position that is supposed to be used to run the county jail as soon as she was hired in March.
The Sheriff’s Office website has for months listed her as the PIO and it lists her duties as acting as “the liaison between the Sheriff’s Office and the media.” She is also responsible for maintaining the office’s presence on Facebook and Twitter.
According to the county’s job description for correctional officers I and II, the position’s duties include regularly dealing with inmates by supervising them inside and outside of the jail, searching them, monitoring their movements, counting them, supervising their showers and haircuts, and overseeing visits they receive.
They must also possess Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training certification, according to the job.
On her Twitter page, Crute-Thurmond lists herself as a “political and campaign consultant.” She was the spokesperson for Hill’s re-election campaign in 2012.
“I love to solve problems and make good people look great,” she wrote in the profile description on her Twitter page.
Nowhere in the job descriptions for correctional officers I or II does it state that their duties include being a media liaison.
But, while the Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook and Twitter pages are updated regularly, attempts by Clayton News Daily reporters to get in touch with her for stories about the sheriff’s office have gone unanswered for months. There’s been no indication that news releases have been sent out either.
“That I don’t like but it’s not my call,” Turner said. “They need to be responsive. I’ll talk to him about that, just to let him know, ‘Hey, you’ve got a PIO. How about being responsive to the media?’”