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Berkeley County adopts new hiring, employment policies

April 28, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

A hiring and employment policy for Berkeley County workers that rankled the county's elected officers, who said it drifted into their turf, was adopted with changes Thursday by the County Commission.

A point of contention among the county's five elected officials - who represent the county Clerk and Circuit Court Clerk offices, the prosecutor and sheriff's office, and the assessor's office - resided in a policy that sought to establish guidelines for the hiring of relatives by county workers.

In a March 24 letter to county Human Resources Director Alan Davis, Berkeley County Clerk John Small said the proposed policy would affect about one-third of the county's work force, which a recent survey revealed was the portion of county workers related to each other.

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"I see no reason to restrict for interview and possible employment individuals who may be related to persons currently in my employ as long as they have completed and submitted the required application, possess the qualifications and meet the requirements of the position they may be applying for," Small wrote.

Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said the number of relatives working together in county government was a product of life in a small town. Games-Neely said the proposed policy had left employees in fear of losing their jobs.

Davis said the policy, which was amended to exclude current employees and those who fall under civil service regulations, was not intended to prohibit relatives from working together in county government.

"(The policy) restricts relatives from being in positions where one may influence either the superior or subordinate relationship," Davis said. "We don't want one relative supervising another."

Commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley said criminal penalties can be levied for situations when a benefit could be established by an employee supervising a member of his immediate family.

Davis, who said he had not seen the results of the survey that was referred by the officers in their correspondences to him, said this proposal and a hiring policy, also approved Thursday, were intended to protect the county from exposure to lawsuits.

"Any litigation we have for employee-related issues are not covered by the county's liability insurance," Davis said. "Any litigation we get involved in comes directly out of the county treasury."

Davis said the hiring policy, which the elected officers decried as an attempt by the commission to dictate practices, was drafted as part of an effort to develop consistency in the process. Davis said a person recommended for employment should be shown to have applied for the job the same as another applicant to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

"We're not attempting to micromanage," Davis said. "We're just trying to make sure everyone is consistent in the steps they take to hire."

The new policy makes the human resources office the depository for all applications, Davis said. Under guidelines adopted Thursday, and put into effect immediately, a weekly timeline for the receipt of hiring recommendations for the commission to consider will be implemented. Davis said the state code grants the commission power to hire, a position not shared by all the officers.

This most recent attempt by Davis to standardize the county's employee policies was not the first time he has found himself at odds with the county's elected officers. An effort last year to impose a dress policy for county workers also was resisted by the officers, who viewed it as an infringement on their authority.

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