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Policy Dilemma Nears Resolution

By Staff | Sep 12, 2008

A third week of discussion on how to handle drunken driving convictions for Secondary Road Depart-ment employees produced a new suggestion for a modification to the policy. The Palo Alto County Supervisors considered a recommendation from County Engineer Joel Fantz, and decided to postpone action on the recommendation for another week.

“We should probably discuss the subject that has generated more feedback than I’ve gotten on any other issue in my time here,” Fantz told the supervisors. “From the feedback I’ve received, the majority of people are saying we should keep our policy the way it is for the six-month period and not change it.”

The issue, regarding employees who have their Commercial Drivers License (CDL) suspended due to an Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) conviction, has generated considerable comment over the past two weeks for the supervisors and Fantz. With one employee currently working with his CDL suspended for an OWI conviction, a second employee had his CDL suspended last week on an OWI charge.

Under the county’s current policy, an employee can chose termination from employment, or they can choose to remain employed, but at a reduced salary for the time their CDL is suspended. During that time, they continue to receive their health insurance coverage, and are able to use any vacation, sick time or holiday benefits they have already accrued, but they will not be able to receive any of these benefits during the time of their license suspension.

Both employees chose the option to continue their employment, but concerns over the reduction in pay have dominated the discussions for the past two weeks.

Last week, the board learned that an employee may obtain a regular drivers’ license six months after their suspension, but cannot get a CDL for 12 months, under federal guidelines.

“What we need to do is to deal with is after an employee gets his drivers’ license back until they are able to get their CDL back,” Fantz said.

“The guys involved in this know that they screwed up and trust me, they feel badly about it,” Fantz continued. “But, I can assure you, they are also very grateful to be able to keep their jobs.”

Fantz then recommended that after the initial six month suspension of all driving privileges, once the employee gets their regular drivers license back, they would be able to perform 50 percent of their job. “At that point, they can do 50 percent of their job, but the organization can be 100 percent effective. They can run a mower, run a grader, but they can’t drive one of our dump trucks till they get their CDL back.”

Fantz recommended that once the employee had their regular license back, that their pay be raised back to 95 percent of full salary until they qualify for their CDL again.

“I can go along with that idea,” commented Board Chair Leo Goeders.

“It’s about the same as what I suggested,” Supervisor Jerry Hofstad said.

“I’d go along with this, too, “ Supervisor Ron Graet-tinger said.

“I’d like to wait a week to vote on this,” Supervisor Ed Noonan said. “I’d like to take a look at this and think about it.”

Noonan noted that calls he received on the issue favored leaving the policy unchanged, and perhaps making it tougher.

“I wouldn’t recommend this if I didn’t think it was fair,” Fantz said.

Hofstad spoke up, noting some people felt such action was none of the board’s business, while others had strong opinions for leaving the policy alone, and for terminating the employees. “We have to do something on this, it just can’t be dropped.”

“We hire these people and pay them to do a job, not prosecute them further,” Noonan said.

“Yes, I don’t think we should be judge and jury on this, either,” Hofstad said.

“I guess I’d have an easier time with terminating an employee than cutting their wages,” Noonan said.

“The workers feel this is a fair deal,” Graettinger said. “This change had to come about because the federal rules changed on the CDL’s.”

“This policy is slightly more stringent than the previous one,” Fantz said to end the discussion, “But it’s consistent with what has been done with our employees in the past.”