Elected official's pay garnished

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Marshall County School Board member's pay - for attendance at meetings associated with his elected position - is being garnished.

It's because of a court order stemming from a complaint School Board member Curt Denton filed after his contract to mow county grass was seen as having been awarded improperly.

That's according to public records, comments by Denton, and other information gathered Wednesday.

The situation is "unfair," Denton said, "because when the court order came through... I gave a check to the circuit court clerk for ... whatever the judgment was [and was told] they do not take checks, which I find to be strange."

The clerk and her deputies do not accept personal checks from individuals in court cases for reasons like those of retail stores that want cash, Circuit Court Clerk Eleanor Brandon Foster confirmed. Her office also accepts cashiers' checks.

"I don't sent out invitations," Foster said Wednesday.

When a court orders a garnishment, she's obliged to follow the judge's directions.

"They sent the [personal] check back," Denton continued, "and before I could come back with cash, they started the garnishment. It didn't happen in a matter of hours. It was over a couple of weeks."

Denton has almost completed paying the debt of $714.94 incurred as a result of litigation he started last year when he sought to be compensated for a contract county officials deemed to have been awarded improperly.

Lincoln County General Sessions Judge Andy Myrick Jr. heard the case here on May 28, 2010 and issued an order on June 4, 2010. Myrick heard the case because Marshall County Judge Steve Bowden recused himself since he's a Marshall County official and Denton sued the county.

As proprietor of Denton Lawn Care, 1559 Spring Place Road, Denton sued on March 30, 2010. A month later, county commissioners assigned Ginger Shofner, then serving as county attorney, to defend the county and she filed a countersuit for reimbursement of her attorney fees and other costs incurred by the county. Denton served as his own lawyer.

Denton complained the county was paying him in 12 monthly installments before he was told to stop cutting county grass. He wanted payments in eight installments for the months of the mowing season, thereby increasing each payment. He wanted the county to pay him $2,339.20 more than he's been paid, plus $172.50 in court costs.

Shofner and commissioners countered that they want lawn-mowing contractors to have workers' compensation insurance. Denton sought a policy, but the underwriter wanted issues resolved from a previous policy before issuing another. The county permitted two delays so Denton could secure the insurance coverage.

When he didn't, county leaders concluded that Denton was working under a contract that had not been finalized and therefore didn't exist.

Myrick saw it as breach of contract, noted that the county had to hire someone else and disagreed with Denton's calculations on what he claimed he was owed.

Denton was over-paid by $278.75 for grass mowing and the county had to pay $382.19 more for grass mowing to the business that was awarded a successor contract for the work, according to Myrick's order.

The Sept. 13 garnishment order directed deductions from Denton's pay for his attendance at school board meetings, non-voting work sessions and related committee meetings.

The total of the garnishment was $660.94 plus costs, bringing the elected county official's debt to the county to $714.94.

School board members are paid $25 per committee meeting and $50 for board meetings, board secretary Rhonda Poole said.

Gaye Wilson is serving as interim payroll clerk at the schools' central office where she declined to release payroll records for Denton. She awaited instructions from Schools Director Roy Dukes.

"We are not going to ... talk about it," Dukes said. "We were ordered to do something based on the court order."

Dukes was asked to consult with legal counsel about open records. The board meets Monday night. Dukes anticipated the attorney, Sam Jackson, would be present.

Also Wednesday, information was obtained indicating that Denton's monthly check for being a school board member has been reduced by half six times since the garnishment order prompted a reduction so money would be sent to the clerks office and, in turn, forwarded to the county budget office in the Courthouse annex across the street.

While no specific numbers were obtained, information indicates that Denton's debt is almost paid.

Denton, a former school bus driver - before he was elected to the school board - was mowing grass at the library, the Hardison Office Annex, the Courthouse and other county properties.