A committee of the County Commission has recommended that county magistrates have two-year terms, instead of one year, and for the commission to take applications on two open seats.
The commission will proceed with advertising for the two posts and make an official announcement next Wednesday. Applications will then be taken until May 8. The commission will interview candidates at the May 16 meeting. The selections will be May 30.
Chief Magistrate Randy Russell and Magistrate Brandy Spurgin Floyd have one-year terms that were set to expire at the end of this month. The commission on Wednesday gave them an extension to the end of May.
The commission in the past has generally given new terms to magistrates deemed to be doing a good job, but Commissioner Tim Boyd, who heads the security and corrections committee, said the pay increase adds a new factor.
He said, "We certainly could attract a different type of candidate."
Commissioner Greg Beck said, "We haven't been getting the cream of the crop. It's people who couldn't make it."
He also said that with the significantly higher pay level "we need more of a look-see at what they actually do."
Commissioners said they once got detailed quarterly reports in person from the chief magistrate, but have not gotten that in a couple of years or more.
The commission recently voted to raise the pay from $65,000 to $80,000, with $4,000 annual raises after that until they reach $92,000. The chief magistrate gets 10 percent above that. The magistrates will be able to get county insurance and other benefits.
Commissioner Boyd said the move from one-year terms to two-year terms means the commission will only have to deal with the issue once a year instead of every six months. There are four magistrates. Under the present system, two of them come up for reappointment every six months since there are staggered terms.
He said, "We've got a pretty smooth working system right now. We've got a good team."
At the suggestion of Commissioner Jim Fields, the openings will be forwarded to the Chattanooga Bar Association for distribution to 900 local attorneys.
Commissioner Boyd recently recommended the pay raise, while noting that the magistrates can no longer practice any type of law. Previously, they could still have civil practices.
The full commission will conduct the interviews.
It was recommended that appointment of on-call "fill-in" magistrates will be on the recommendation of the chief magistrate, who will submit a resume to the security and corrections committee. That panel will then make a recommendation to the full commission.
The magistrates set bonds and sign warrants at the county jail on Walnut Street. It is a round-the-clock operation.