BLUFF CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Through the shutdowns and COVID-related changes in 2020, it was a hectic year for frontline workers. While doctors, law enforcement, and other health care professionals may be the first people who come to mind at the thought of ‘frontline workers’, the scope stretches far beyond that.
City employees across the region and nation continued their duties throughout the hardest and longest stretch of the pandemic, and that’s why a number of municipalities are allocating ‘COVID bonuses’ to these employees.
Bluff City, Tennessee is yet another municipality considering these bonuses. Almost two weeks ago, the first workshop to discuss these potential bonuses, alongside other city matters, took place. On Tuesday, August 31 a second follow-up workshop was held to solely discuss the idea of COVID bonuses.
In this latest workshop, a document was released showing the potential amounts that will be allocated to each category of employee. This document is raising eyebrows since the amounts are inconsistent across the board. One question brought to the attention of News Channel 11 by a viewer was the high amount seeming to be allocated to Bluff City Mayor, Irene Wells, in the sum of $20,000.
News Channel 11 spoke with Bluff City Alderman, Jeff Broyles, who clarified a few questions regarding the amounts displayed on the document.
“It is a working document, and the board has not made a decision. The item is not even on the agenda yet, but I would call them a suggested amount or amount per bonus,” said Broyles.
While the document is not set in stone, Broyles agreed there is still work to be done. He stressed that this document was a suggestion and is by no means binding. He said he personally feels there needs to be changes when it comes to not only the amounts but who receives the funds.
“I believe that the employees that worked during the time period of March 2020 to March of 2021 as stipulated by the comptroller’s office, are fully deserving of a bonus,” said Broyles. “I believe that the elected officials, such as myself as an alderman, should be excluded from the bonus. I feel that the bonus should be fair, reasonable, and equally distributed to those employees who deserve it.”
On the topic of ‘fair and reasonable,’ Broyles said he believes the amounts should be uniform for those city employees, and only then will he vote ‘yes’ on passing COVID bonuses. He stressed that he feels these bonuses should especially go to those who were on the frontlines, in harm’s way of contracting the virus, such as local police and employees within the public works department.
When asked about the $20,000 amount on the document placed next to Irene Wells’ corresponding position, he did state that Wells acts as both Mayor and Town Manager. He stood by his earlier statement that the amounts should be fair and reasonable. “I do not believe that it is fair, nor do I believe there should be tiers associated with the bonus. As I stated earlier, I think the amount decided should be reasonable, and equally distributed,” said Broyles.
The money for these bonuses would come from two pools of CARES Act funding that the city is receiving. Broyles said roughly $33,000 has been allocated by the state, and federal funding in the amount of nearly half a million dollars is expected to drop in December.
Broyles said in his opinion, they should use the $33,000 for the city COVID bonuses and focus that federal funding on much-needed infrastructure projects and improvements throughout the city.
While the discussion is still in the early stages, Broyles said he believes the process could and should go swiftly once everyone is in agreement on the amounts and who receives them. As of Monday, it is still a discussion being held in workshops, and it has yet to make it onto an actual meeting agenda.
Because it has not officially become an agenda item, Mayor Irene Wells has refused to publicly comment on the matter at this time. News Channel 11 also reached out to other Aldermen and Alderwomen on the board on Friday and they also have not returned comments.
However, while it’s not yet set in stone, Broyles said he does believe the 1,800 citizens he serves should still be aware that the discussion is happening. “Every issue we face as a board deserves equal public awareness,” he said.
The item of COVID bonuses is not on the agenda for the city’s September 7 meeting. Broyles said another workshop on the matter will ultimately be set by Mayor Wells.