Tippecanoe Co. sheriff asks to change specialty pay policies; HR opposes

Commissioners and Human Resources Director speak out against sheriff's request to extend specialty pay. (WLFI)
Commissioners and Human Resources Director speak out against sheriff's request to extend specialty pay. (WLFI)

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – Tippecanoe County Sheriff Barry Richard is hoping the county will reconsider expanding specialty pay to certain civilian employees within his department.

Currently, specialty pay can only be awarded to merit deputies for specific training certifications, but the sheriff wants to give it to six other people in training positions including communication dispatch, corrections and an office manager.

Last year, Richard misunderstood the rules and gave those six people merit pay without county approval. When Human Resources caught the mistake, they had to take the money back. That’s when Richard paid those six employees $500 apiece out of his own pocket.

Now, he’s trying to make them eligible. However, many people think that would open a can of worms.

“If we’re going to do it like that, that would just go like wildfire with every different department because every department has a specialty, every department has something that they specialize in,” said Tippecanoe County Human Resources Director Shirley Mennen.

Richard said, “There are a lot of great employees in our county and many different departments, and I think each department head should come to the council and commissioners and be able to present them a case.”

Mennen says she’s all about being fair.

“That’s kind of my mantra through everything I do; I’m very black or white, you know?” said Mennen. “You follow the rules, you do things correctly.”

That’s why she spoke up at the council meeting on Monday.

“I do not agree with it, I think it would be a bad move,” said Mennen as the council took up the specialty pay for discussion even though it wasn’t officially on the agenda.

Mennen said people need to understand how the merit deputy specialty pay was originally designed.

“It doesn’t mean that it’s a compensation for any additional merit for doing your job well,” said Mennen. “It’s for actually having the additional training for doing very specific things like a bomb squad, SWAT team, dive team.”

Commissioners sided with Mennen as they too believe the expansion would cause trouble.

“Could grow extensively across the county and come at a significant cost to the taxpayers,” Commissioner Tracy Brown said.

Brown helped create specialty pay for merit deputies in 2009. He said he would be interested in researching whether other jurisdictions have approved expanding the pay in the same way.

Brown said it’s not that those six people don’t deserve special recognition.

“We just need to do some research and do it in a way that is fair to everyone involved,” said Brown.

Mennen argued there’s a way to be fair without expanding specialty pay.

“Go through the job description, make sure that they’ve got all of the duties in the job description so that it can be classified accordingly and paid properly,” said Mennen.

Richard said he would consider doing that but hopes the county reconsiders the expansion. He is disappointed the council didn’t bring up their concerns sooner so something could be done for those six employees before the end of this year.

“To retain your employees, to retain your department, it gives them that little bit of incentive and also appreciation for what they’re doing for your department,” said Richard.

But Mennen said that can be argued in every department and her foresight was appreciated.

“After the meeting, there were multiple department heads who came and thanked me for standing up for the other department heads,” said Mennen.

News 18 will continue to follow future decisions on the topic.