Saturday, December 09, 2023

Concerns delay adoption of policy updates

Staff Writer | March 5, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A host of policies were put on hold Tuesday after concerns about whether county employees had had enough time to review proposed changes.

The policies included the county's grievance procedure, rules of employee conduct, workplace harassment, whistleblower, and drug and alcohol policy. And, one by one, the policies were tabled.

The votes followed their submission by Cindy Binkerd, Human Resources director, who told commissioners that most of the policies could be described as "general housekeeping."

"We're just kind of clean up our policies from time to time to make sure they're compliant," she told the board.

However, the effort to approve the policies quickly stalled when Commissioner Luke Omodt asked for the policies to be tabled to give employees sufficient time to review and give meaningful feedback.

Omodt said that, following a county workshop on the policies, he was approached by a number of employees and elected officials concerned over whether they'd had enough time to review the proposed changes. Much of the concerns center around engagement and how the proposed changes would affect their jobs, Omodt said.

While they appreciated the workshop, Omodt said the employees told him they questioned whether the short period in which they had to review the changes was enough.

"For some of these policies, 30 minutes is not enough time for a department head or an employee to be able to evaluate the impact that these policies are going to have potentially upon the execution of their duties and providing services to the county," Omodt said.

His preference would be to table the policies to allow for review and workshops, giving time for employees and the public to comment, he said.

Commissioner Asia Williams said the county had discussed many of the proposed changes at past meetings and noted that a workshop on many of the changes was held. And, while not all of the changes require a workshop, she said they were reviewed by an employment law specialist.

"All of the policy updates are in line with employment law and, with the exception of the whistleblower policy, we received input from the community," Williams said.

Williams questioned whether the move to table the policies was truly about the proposed changes, or whether it was about a human resources procedure.

"This discussion is moving into a human resources job function discussion, which is disingenuous," Williams said. "If you guys want to ask those questions, I respectfully request that the board put that as a different agenda item to discuss the process and procedure of human resources … and not use a human resources item to change the topic."

Given concerns over outside counsel on the matters, Omodt asked the board's counsel, Bill Wilson, why the county hadn't had the local prosecutor's office for review instead.

Binkerd said that, while her office worked with the prosecutor's office for day-to-day items, an outside firm specializing in employment law was used to ensure changes met best practices and current guidelines.

Wilson said the county has used the outside law firm since 2015, noting the chief lawyer at the firm is a specialist both in understanding human resource issues and in litigating those issues. Utilizing that firm "is money incredibly well spent," he told the board.

County Clerk Michael Rosedale said while he didn't see anything necessarily wrong with any of the policies, his concern lay in the short timeframe in which county employees had to review them. His preference would be to get copies of the proposed changes and have time to review and study them.

"Thirty minutes for all those different policies is not really enough time to be able to chew and mull over them and compare them," Rosedale said.

Williams said employees had the ability to go to the HR department to be able to review the proposed changes over the past month since they were proposed. Few, if any, employees did that.

However, if the board opted to table the policies, Williams said the board should specify a specific date and time to bring them back for a vote.

After the tabling of changes to the grievance procedure, rules of employee conduct, and workplace harassment, a new whistleblower met the same fate despite Williams' concern about what a delay in its adoption would mean to the county.

"We have a number of people that have raised issues and concerns," Williams said. "And I think this is a part of cleaning up some of our county business as a whole."

However, Omodt said that while he appreciated Williams' concerns, he "wanted to get it right the first time."

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