Byers writes headline in Council meeting

PLYMOUTH — “…You know the headline tomorrow is going to read confusion on hiring policy…”
The words of Marshall County Councilman Ward Byers were prophetic as the County Council wrangled with the same issue in its monthly meeting as the Marshall County Commissioners did in theirs a week ago — just what is the protocol for replacing county employees who retire or move on to other employment?
In 2009 — in order to meet the demands of the downturn in the economy — the Council and Commissioners put in place a policy to meet budget constraints. Before a department head or an elected official could rehire an employee who resigned or retired they were to first come before both bodies to seek their approval. The underlying desire was to reduce employees by attrition rather than be forced to make layoffs as budgets became tighter.
Marshall County Clerk Julie Fox was facing two staff retirements in 2011 and hired a replacement in February for one of those positions and came before both boards regarding the second. Fox told the Council that she assumed the policy had expired after the 2009 budget year and she had used the Marshall County Employee Handbook guidelines to make the replacement hires which says that power lies “…solely with the elected official or department head.”
Fox came before the County Commissioners a week ago and a motion by Commissioner Greg Compton to approve of Fox hirings died for want of a second. Apparently the action sent mixed signals to the Council. Fox’s appeal to the Council for approval passed, but both Councilmen John Benedict and Rex Gilliland voted against approval based on the actions of the Commissioners and the desire to not “…circumvent…” them in the process.
Councilman Ralph Booker questioned the ability for the Council to have any real power in the process at all. Booker pointed out that it was the Commissioners who have the power to decide not to pay a payroll claim, thus effectively blocking any new employment. Booker said the only power the Council would have — for a position already contained in the year’s budget — is denying funding for the position when the new budget is made.
A month ago, the Council had sent a recommendation to the Marshall County Personnel Committee to replace wording in the handbook with the policy that all new employees must have a document signed by the President of the Council and President of the Commissioners before Human Resources could add them to the payroll.
County Auditor Penny Lukenbill suggested that both boards could pass a joint resolution acknowledging the policy if they did not desire to permanently change the policy in the county handbook. She said the Personnel Committee had held off on the Council recommendation until it could obtain the advice of the county’s consultant in employment matters to be sure of its legality.
“We need to come to some kind of consensus on this — whether its a permanent change to the handbook, or a resolution or whatever both boards come up with. This has to be confusing to our department heads,” said Byers. “The first thing we need to do is get clarification from Ken Irwin (consultant) on this as quickly as possible so that we can provide some guidance to our department heads. This is just confusing everybody.”