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Supervisors Change County Employment Policy

By Staff | Sep 18, 2008

The long-simmering issue of a change in an employment policy was settled Tuesday by the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors. The final decision brought some harsh words, but apparent closure to the issue, reducing the penalties for employees convicted of Operating While Intoxicated.

Since its August 26 meeting, the supervisors have discussed what to do with a policy governing Secondary Road Department employees affected by OWI convictions. Under Iowa law, a first-offense OWI conviction requires the suspension of a person’s driving privilege for a six-month period. At the same time, if the individual holds a Commercial Drivers License, or CDL, as most every secondary road worker does in the county, a conviction for OWI results in a 12-month suspension of the CDL, under federal regulations.

Under the county’s original policy, an employee who has their license suspended for an OWI conviction could keep their job, but with a reduction in pay to 61 percent of their regular salary for the time the drivers’ licenses are suspended. However, during the past few weeks, the supervisors have discussed other options and possible policy amendments.

County Engineer Joel Fantz offered a proposal to allow 95 percent pay when an individual obtains a regular drivers license following the six month suspension, and Supervisor Jerry Hofstad had suggested a similar proposal, allowing for 95 percent pay after the employee obtained a special work permit and obtained high-risk insurance and an ignition interlock device. However, in a vote on Sept. 9, neither option was approved after a 2-2 vote, with Supervisor Keith Wirtz abstaining from voting.

That failure to arrive at a decision prompted a continuation of the discussion on Tuesday, with Wirtz re-opening the discussion.

“I got a call from a secondary road worker who asked me to vote on this issue,” Wirtz told the board. Wirtz has a family member who is employed by the Secondary Road Department. “This individual knew I was in between a rock and a hard place on this issue, but they reminded me that I was elected to serve the voters, so that is why I am going to vote on this issue.”

Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz reiterated his belief that employees deserve a second chance in such situations. “If we don’t give these folks a second chance, then they’re gone, and it’s tough to find good people.”

“I say let’s put it on the agenda for next week and go into closed session on it,” suggested Supervisor Jerry Hofstad.

“Oh, come on,” Fantz responded. “How long are you going to drag this out? Three of you guys (supervisors) are too close to this issue – you have ties to this.”

Supervisor Ron Graettinger moved to accept a recommendation made by Fantz a week earlier, allowing employees to receive 95 percent of their pay after they obtained a regular drivers’ license, following the six-month state suspension, and a return to full pay when they were able to obtain a CDL. Board chair Leo Goeders seconded the motion.

“How would something like this go over say in the Sheriff’s Office?” Goeders asked. “We have to think about things like that.”

‘I agree,” Graettinger said.

“Well, if an employee doesn’t sign their agreement on the policy, it’s illegal,” Wirtz noted.

“If they don’t sign it, then they’re gone,” Graettinger responded. “I think we’re being fair.

With the motion on the floor, the roll call vote was taken.

Supervisors Wirtz, Hofstad and Ed Noonan voted nay, while Graettinger and Goeders voted for the motion. With the vote 2-3, the motion failed.

Hofstad then moved to amend the engineer’s proposal, changing the timeframe from the six-month period at reduced salary to the length of time it would take an employee to obtain a work permit, purchase high-risk SR22 insurance and obtain an ignition interlock device, all at the employees’ expense. Once those conditions were met, the employee would receive 95 percent of their pay. Noonan seconded the motion and the roll call vote was taken. Hofstad, Wirtz and Noonan voted aye, while Graettinger and Goeders voted nay. The motion passed on a 3-2 vote.

Fantz spoke up. “I’m as disappointed as I’ve ever been in this board,

“I think that’s very unprofessional for you to say that,” Noonan replied.

“I disagree,” Graettinger interjected. “He’s in charge of the department and responsible for his employees.

“He’s telling us what to do,” Noonan retorted loudly.

“No, he is in charge of secondary roads, not us,” Graettinger replied loudly. “We hire people to supervise employees and the workplace. We should let them do their jobs and not tell them how to do it. This deal, people out there are going to be mighty unhappy about this.

“That’s enough,” Board Chair Goeders said. “It’s over.”

Supervisors Change County Employment Policy

By Staff | Sep 18, 2008

The long-simmering issue of a change in an employment policy was settled Tuesday by the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors. The final decision brought some harsh words, but apparent closure to the issue, reducing the penalties for employees convicted of Operating While Intoxicated.

Since its August 26 meeting, the supervisors have discussed what to do with a policy governing Secondary Road Department employees affected by OWI convictions. Under Iowa law, a first-offense OWI conviction requires the suspension of a person’s driving privilege for a six-month period. At the same time, if the individual holds a Commercial Drivers License, or CDL, as most every secondary road worker does in the county, a conviction for OWI results in a 12-month suspension of the CDL, under federal regulations.

Under the county’s original policy, an employee who has their license suspended for an OWI conviction could keep their job, but with a reduction in pay to 61 percent of their regular salary for the time the drivers’ licenses are suspended. However, during the past few weeks, the supervisors have discussed other options and possible policy amendments.

County Engineer Joel Fantz offered a proposal to allow 95 percent pay when an individual obtains a regular drivers license following the six month suspension, and Supervisor Jerry Hofstad had suggested a similar proposal, allowing for 95 percent pay after the employee obtained a special work permit and obtained high-risk insurance and an ignition interlock device. However, in a vote on Sept. 9, neither option was approved after a 2-2 vote, with Supervisor Keith Wirtz abstaining from voting.

That failure to arrive at a decision prompted a continuation of the discussion on Tuesday, with Wirtz re-opening the discussion.

“I got a call from a secondary road worker who asked me to vote on this issue,” Wirtz told the board. Wirtz has a family member who is employed by the Secondary Road Department. “This individual knew I was in between a rock and a hard place on this issue, but they reminded me that I was elected to serve the voters, so that is why I am going to vote on this issue.”

Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz reiterated his belief that employees deserve a second chance in such situations. “If we don’t give these folks a second chance, then they’re gone, and it’s tough to find good people.”

“I say let’s put it on the agenda for next week and go into closed session on it,” suggested Supervisor Jerry Hofstad.

“Oh, come on,” Fantz responded. “How long are you going to drag this out? Three of you guys (supervisors) are too close to this issue – you have ties to this.”

Supervisor Ron Graettinger moved to accept a recommendation made by Fantz a week earlier, allowing employees to receive 95 percent of their pay after they obtained a regular drivers’ license, following the six-month state suspension, and a return to full pay when they were able to obtain a CDL. Board chair Leo Goeders seconded the motion.

“How would something like this go over say in the Sheriff’s Office?” Goeders asked. “We have to think about things like that.”

‘I agree,” Graettinger said.

“Well, if an employee doesn’t sign their agreement on the policy, it’s illegal,” Wirtz noted.

“If they don’t sign it, then they’re gone,” Graettinger responded. “I think we’re being fair.

With the motion on the floor, the roll call vote was taken.

Supervisors Wirtz, Hofstad and Ed Noonan voted nay, while Graettinger and Goeders voted for the motion. With the vote 2-3, the motion failed.

Hofstad then moved to amend the engineer’s proposal, changing the timeframe from the six-month period at reduced salary to the length of time it would take an employee to obtain a work permit, purchase high-risk SR22 insurance and obtain an ignition interlock device, all at the employees’ expense. Once those conditions were met, the employee would receive 95 percent of their pay. Noonan seconded the motion and the roll call vote was taken. Hofstad, Wirtz and Noonan voted aye, while Graettinger and Goeders voted nay. The motion passed on a 3-2 vote.

Fantz spoke up. “I’m as disappointed as I’ve ever been in this board,

“I think that’s very unprofessional for you to say that,” Noonan replied.

“I disagree,” Graettinger interjected. “He’s in charge of the department and responsible for his employees.

“He’s telling us what to do,” Noonan retorted loudly.

“No, he is in charge of secondary roads, not us,” Graettinger replied loudly. “We hire people to supervise employees and the workplace. We should let them do their jobs and not tell them how to do it. This deal, people out there are going to be mighty unhappy about this.

“That’s enough,” Board Chair Goeders said. “It’s over.”

Details Of Policy Amendment

The amendment to county policy approved by the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors affects the employment conditions of Secondary Road Employees who are convicted of a first-offense Operating While Intoxicated offense.

The original policy featured two options, the first being Termination of employment. The second option called for the employee to receive 61 percent of their normal wage for the time in which their privilege to drive was suspended for the OWI conviction. In addition, restrictions on vacation, leave and sick days were also spelled out.

A need to make an amendment to the policy came about when federal regulations for Commercial Drivers Licenses, (CDL) changed the length of a suspension for an OWI conviction from six months to 12 months.

Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz proposed an amendment to Option II on Sept. 9, allowing an employee to revert to 95 percent of their full salary at the point in time when they were able to obtain a regular, non-CDL license, ideally six months, to coincide with the end of the state license suspension. The employee would receive 100 percent pay when they were eligible to obtain their CDL license after 12 months, in accordance with federal regulations.

Supervisor Jerry Hofstad proposed the following version of Option II on Sept. 16. This amendment was approved by the Supervisors on a 3-2 vote:

Option I: Termination of employment from Palo Alto County Secondary Roads Department.

Option II: A lesser position with Secondary Roads. This is being offered to you as a result of your outstanding work record while employed with secondary roads and the strong endorsement by your foreman. The following would be the conditions of your employment:

While holding no drivers license:

– The wage will be 61% of the normal wage.

– You will not accrue vacation/sick/holiday benefits during this time period. You will be allowed to take vacation / comp time that you have already accrued to date. When used these will be paid out to you at the higher per hour rate. (For example: if you were previously an Operator II you will be paid at the current Operator II rate. You will not receive paid sick leave during this period. However, your sick leave account balance will be maintained.

*After getting a work permit or regular drivers license and installing an interlock device on your primary piece of non-CDL county equipment:

– The wage will be 95% of the normal wage.

– You will accrue vacation/holiday benefits during this time period at the 95% rate. You will be allowed to take vacation / comp time that you have already accrued to date. When used these will be paid out to you at the 100% per hour rate. You will be allowed to take a maximum of 4 days of paid sick leave during this period from your current account. You will not accrue additional sick leave. However, your sick leave account balance will be maintained.

Until rehired for your normal position:

– You will be in a probationary status. Violation of county work rules, including a second off-duty OWI, will result in your dismissal from the Secondary Road Department.

– You will be able to return to work at your regular position after a favorable performance review once your CDL is re-instated.

– Your heath insurance will continue to be paid by Palo Alto County.

You are responsible for:

– Obtaining a work permit, ignition interlock device, and any additional costs as a result of your OWI.

– Any costs for treatment and or counseling

– Any additional costs to comply with terms of a work permit including SR-22 insurance, or other insurance costs required to drive a county non-CDL vehicle.

– Any costs relating to return-to-work and follow-up testing.

– Any time off related to the arrest/conviction.