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Sheriff says Strauss' questions 'vincitive'

February 25, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Commission member Howard Strauss on Tuesday questioned whether county employees in supervisory roles should continue to be paid overtime, prompting one elected official to call Strauss' comments "vindictive."

Sheriff Randy Smith said after the meeting, which he did not attend, that the overtime issue was "another attack" on the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department. Smith and Strauss have sparred verbally over several issues in the past, including salaries and equipment.

Reached for additional comment after the meeting, Strauss dismissed any claims that the discussion was personal or aimed toward the Sheriff's Department.

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"I was asking questions, not making decisions," Strauss said. "If the sheriff has a problem with my First Amendment right to ask questions regarding salaries, he has a serious problem because those are questions the commissioners should ask.

"Is it personal? No. It's not personal," Strauss said.

Strauss said he inquired about overtime because he was not sure which offices pay it and which do not. He asked that the issue be discussed again during the budget process, when a uniform policy regarding supervisors receiving overtime pay could be created.

"Obviously, if you have a supervisor in one office that's getting overtime, we need to say they all should be getting it or none of the supervisors should be getting it," he said.

By the end of the fiscal year June 30, the county may have paid as much as $50,000 in overtime for all county offices, Strauss said.

The county commissioners, regardless of how many hours they work, are paid a salary of $30,800, he said. The sheriff also does not receive overtime pay.

The discussion about overtime took place after the commissioners talked about an unrelated matter with Chief Deputy Kenneth Lemaster during their afternoon meeting.

After discussing whether the county should pay for outdoor jackets for bailiffs, Commission President Steve Teufel mentioned that overtime and fuel bills seem to be increasing.

Strauss asked County Administrator Deborah Hammond whether supervisory employees are eligible to receive overtime. Hammond responded that anyone who supervises three or more people should not receive the additional pay.

Although Strauss initially mentioned several jobs that he would consider as supervisory, he then asked Lemaster directly whether he receives overtime pay.

Lemaster responded that he does and that he is a Civil Service employee who must be paid for the hours he works, per state code.

Strauss then looked toward Chief Tax Deputy Barb Burkhart, who attended the meeting, and asked whether she receives overtime. Burkhart replied that she does and that a lot of work would remain unfinished if she were to leave every day at 5 p.m.

Later, Smith said Burkhart's Tax Office has not added a new employee for 15 years. He has asked that another position be added for next year.

"Howard is just on a mission to cause chaos," Smith said. "It's a personal, vindictive move toward me. Do I know why? No."

He said only 42 percent of the allotted overtime money for his department has been used this year. Without overtime, Smith said, county offices might not be able to function properly.

"County government would come to a halt," he said.

"The bottom line is, you have to fund the constitutional offices. Give me what I need to get my job done," he said.

Like his other officers, Smith said he responds to calls, handles accidents and performs other day-to-day duties.

"Supervisors aren't set on a pedestal. Supervisors work," he said.

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