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Sumner County scraps HR department


Sumner County scraps HR department

Jun 29, 2023 | 9:53 am ET
By Anita Wadhwani
Sumner County scraps HR department
The Sumner County Courthouse. (Photo: Sumner County Chancery Court)

The Sumner County Commission has eliminated the county’s human resources department, leaving roughly 1,000 public employees without a dedicated personnel team.

The decision this week, approved 19-4, is part of an ongoing approach to “streamline government and decrease bureaucratic function,” Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield said in advance of the vote.

Commissioner Baker Ring was among those opposed to the measure, noting that the county is currently facing multiple lawsuits over policy actions taken by the county commission since a turnover in membership ushered in a majority of members who campaigned on limiting government in the last election.

“One of the reasons for an HR department is to help avert lawsuits. I don’t know that the law office has a lot of extra time to avert HR lawsuits as opposed to the other lawsuits which we are having to deal with,” Ring said.

The majority of Tennessee’s 95 counties lack an HR department, according to the County Technical Assistance Service at the University of Tennessee. Those that have them are among the state’s largest. Sumner County becomes the only county among Tennessee’s ten largest to lack a dedicated HR department.

Commission members initially proposed phasing out the department by December, but instead opted to eliminate it immediately at their meeting Monday, transitioning functions to other departments.

Cheryl Lewis-Smith, the county’s HR director, has previously called the move a “travesty” and said she was concerned that eliminating her department would impact the welfare of Sumner County employees and increase liability risks for the county. Lewis-Smith, 58, also questioned whether she was being targeted due to her age, discriminated against because she is Black or retaliated against due to conflicts with department heads.

Commissioner Matthew Shoaf said his vote in favor of eliminating the department was not related to any individual, but rather because HR departments are at odds with county governments in which elected officials can set their own rules and cannot be forced to comply with HR policies.