BOC moves to re­peal Civil Ser­vice Sys­tem

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - DAR­RYL WELCH dwelch@cov­news.com

The New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers (BOC) took the first steps to­ward re­peal­ing the county’s Civil Ser­vice Sys­tem its Tues­day night meet­ing. The sys­tem cov­ers ap­prox­i­mately 80 em­ploy­ees.

Com­mis­sion­ers voted unan­i­mously to ap­prove a res­o­lu­tion di­rect­ing the County Man­ager Lloyd Kerr, Hu­man Re­sources Di­rec­tor Keyra Fray and County At­tor­ney Megan Martin to start the process for no­ti­fy­ing af­fected em­ploy­ees and sched­ul­ing pub­lic hear­ings on the topic.

The vote fol­lowed an ear­lier work ses­sion where com­mis­sion­ers heard at­tor­ney Kayla Van Ooster­wyck of Jar­rard & Davis, LLP ex­plain that New­ton County em­ploy­ees are cur­rently work­ing with two dif­fer­ent em­ployee hand­books. One hand­book is ap­pli­ca­ble to em­ploy­ees hired be­fore 2006 and one for all em­ploy­ees hired af­ter.

“We cur­rently are work­ing with a sys­tem where there are two em­ployee hand­books. We were asked to look at what could be done to sim­plify that sys­tem and cre­ate one em­ployee hand­book that will ap­ply to all em­ploy­ees,” she said.

Van Ooster­wyck told com­mis­sion­ers the county im­ple­mented its Civil Ser­vice Sys­tem in 1991 and si­mul­ta­ne­ously adopted a set of per­son­nel poli­cies which pro­vided that county em­ploy­ees cov­ered by the civil ser­vice sys­tem could only be ter­mi­nated for cause.

“That sys­tem re­mained in place as it was adopted until 2006, when the county adopted an “at will” pol­icy which ap­plied to any em­ployee hired af­ter May 1, 2006,” she said.

Van Ooster­wyck said when em­ploy­ees are “at will” they serve at the plea­sure of the county and can be ter­mi­nated for good rea­son, bad rea­son or no rea­son at all.

“So long as it is not related to some protected clas­si­fi­ca­tion of sex, race or na­tional ori­gin,” she said. “And for em­ploy­ees who are prop­erly cov­ered by the Civil Ser­vice Sys­tem, these are em­ploy­ees who have a con­sti­tu­tion­ally protected prop­erty interest in con­tin­ued em­ploy­ment.

“This is func­tion­ally the op­po­site of at will em­ploy­ment and any em­ployee who has a prop­erty interest in con­tin­ued em­ploy­ment can only be dis­missed for cause and they may not be ter­mi­nated with­out re­ceiv­ing due process rights, which would re­quire the county to pro­vide them no­tice of the rea­son for any dis­ci­plinary ac­tion and pro­vide them a mean­ing­ful op­por­tu­nity to re­spond at a pre-ter­mi­na­tion and/ or a ter­mi­na­tion hearing.”

Van Ooster­wyck said the rem­edy to the sit­u­a­tion of two em­ployee hand­books would be to re­peal the en­tire Civil Ser­vice Sys­tem and re­turn all county em­ploy­ees to “at will” sta­tus.

She told com­mis­sion­ers there are due process re­quire­ments for the re­peal of the Civil Ser­vice Sys­tem.

“We need to no­tify all af­fected em­ploy­ees of the pro­posed change and why we are propos­ing it. We need to per­mit those em­ploy­ees a rea­son­able time to ex­press their ques­tions and con­cerns. We can do this through a through a com­ment pe­riod, as well as a pub­lic hearing,” she said.

“We would have to bring this to the Board again for a fi­nal de­ci­sion on whether to re­peal or not the county’s Civil Ser­vice Sys­tem.”

She said the fi­nal de­ci­sion would be made by the BOC in an open meet­ing.

Dis­trict 3 Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schulz ex­pressed con­cern that there should be pro­vi­sions made for em­ploy­ees who have been loyal to the county in the event of a re­duc­tion of force.

“One of the ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve had with this com­ing up be­fore was when we had a re­duc­tion of force in 2009. Those who were in the civil ser­vice cat­e­gory didn’t have to worry about be­ing re­duced,” she said, “I would think that might come up now if we move to an at will, that many of them , if they’ve been employed as far back as 1991, they’ve been loyal to the county. Is there some kind of pro­vi­sion that is made for loy­alty when there is a re­duc­tion in force given that they might be an at will em­ployee?”

Van Ooster­wyck said the BOC has flex­i­bil­ity in that they get to draft a pol­icy on re­duc­tion of force.

“If that is some­thing that you want to see in­cor­po­rated to ac­count for ter­mi­nat­ing the Civil Ser­vice Sys­tem is to say that one of the cri­te­ria for a re­duc­tion of force , we can write that into the pol­icy,” she said, “It will de­pend on what the county wants to re­tain.”

Schulz said she wouldn’t want to see loyal em­ploy­ees be­come ca­su­al­ties of an at will sys­tem.

“Our hu­man re­sources are our greatest re­sources,” she said.

Van Ooster­wyck of­fered com­mis­sion­ers an es­ti­mated time­line for mak­ing the change, with all af­fected em­ploy­ees be­ing no­ti­fied by Sept 30. The open com­ment pe­riod would be from Oct. 1-Oct. 30, with a hearing on the re­peal by Oct 30. The county would then com­plete a draft of new per­son­nel poli­cies by Nov. 30, with com­mis­sion­ers vot­ing on the re­peal and adop­tion of the new per­son­nel poli­cies by Dec. 19. The new per­son­nel poli­cies would go into ef­fect Jan. 1, 2018.

She told The Cov­ing­ton News there will be a lot more in­for­ma­tion avail­able in com­ing weeks re­gard­ing the new per­son­nel poli­cies and what ben­e­fits and/or pro­tec­tions County em­ploy­ees will have un­der those poli­cies, as well as how the poli­cies will ap­ply to em­ploy­ees of elected of­fi­cials.

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