SOUTH BEND — Sheriff Scott Johnson claimed his decision to hire his own dad, Ferrill LeRoy Johnson, 80, as undersheriff was never about money. Public records tell a different story.
LeRoy Johnson, a retired county road crew worker with no law enforcement training or experience, “… volunteered to take on this challenge at no cost, however I considered paying him just like anyone else that has held the position,” Sheriff Johnson wrote in a lengthy Nov. 13 Facebook post. “He convinced me he will not take any compensation…”
However, Sheriff Johnson, who recently lost his re-election bid, tried to get his dad a salary at the very top of the undersheriff pay-scale the same day he wrote his Facebook message. At a regular meeting on Nov. 13, Johnson asked the Board of County Commissioners to approve a salary for an “Administrative Undersheriff.” He requested a pay-rate of $37.17 per hour, which works out to $6,467 a month, or about $77,600 a year. Commissioners Frank Wolfe, Lisa Ayers and Lisa Olsen unanimously rejected the request.
No such title
Wolfe said commissioners get to set budgets for each department and office, but have almost no control over how elected officials spend their money once it has been allocated. They were able to reject Johnson’s request because he was asking them to fund a position — Administrative Undersheriff — that isn’t in the budget.
“There is no such title. That is to say, no such job description exists,” Wolfe explained on Nov. 20.
Wolfe pointed out that if the sheriff comes back and asks them to approve a new hire for a regular undersheriff, they can express their disapproval, but they probably can’t actually stop the hire from happening.
“It is funded until the end of the year, so he could hire an undersheriff and he is pretty much able to hire anybody he wants,” Wolfe said.
Top of the pay-scale
The county’s pay-scale for management roles has 20 “grades.” The undersheriff job receives a Grade 17 salary. There are eight “steps” for each grade. Starting in year six, employees also receive a longevity bonus that starts at 1.5 percent of their salary, and increases with additional years of service.
Typically, an employee with no previous experience would start near the bottom step for their grade, and increase one step with each year of experience. An undersheriff at Step One would make $29.21 per hour, $5,082 a month and about $60,984 annually.
LeRoy Johnson replaced Ron Clark, a deputy with 30 years of service to the county. A request for information about Clark’s salary showed that he made more money than Johnson Sr. would have made, but only because of his longevity pay.
‘A soap opera’
The sheriff praised his father, an ex-Marine, for being a “steadfast volunteer” over the last eight years, saying he trusted him to help him sort out his affairs during his final weeks in office. Despite his familiarity with many aspects of sheriff’s office operations, the elder Johnson is not a state-certified peace officer, and couldn’t realistically become one even if he were fit to enter academy, as the process takes months.
No one is quite sure what will happen next. With roughly six weeks left in the year, County Prosecutor Mark McClain probably doesn’t have time to figure out how the law applies. Wolfe said he thinks his time is better spent on things that will affect the future of the county, like sorting out the 2019 budget.
“I have other things to spend my time on than what amounts to a soap opera at this point,” Wolfe said.