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Two independent contractors become Berkeley County full-time employees

August 24, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The hiring of two employees Thursday by Berkeley County Council addressed federal labor law concerns that their prior role with the county as independent contractors was not clear, according to county officials.

The council voted 4-1 to hire Adam Rouse and James V. Thompson Jr. as full-time employees. Based on a 35-hour workweek, Rouse will be paid $36,381 as the county’s project architect and Thompson will be paid $45,500 as clerk of the works, County Administrator Deborah Hammond said.

Including benefits, the county’s total cost of the additional employees will be $114,798 annually, Hammond said.

Councilman Anthony J. “Tony” Petrucci voted against the hiring decision.

Officials said Thursday that Rouse and Thompson are now “at-will” employees and only would be employed as long as work exists. 

Rouse and Thompson were hired in August 2011 as independent contractors to assist in renovations to the former Martin’s Food Market at 510 S. Raleigh St. that will house the county sheriff’s law-enforcement division, according to county records obtained Friday. County officials since have asked them to begin designs for renovations for Berkeley County Central Dispatch at 802 Emmett Rousch Drive and the first floor of the county’s Dunn Building at 400 W. Stephen St.

While the initial intent was that they be retained as independent contractors, council attorney Norwood Bentley III said Thursday that the relationship between Rouse and Thompson and the county had “blurred” and evolved into more of an employer-employee relationship.

The appearance of that evolution prompted concern about the county’s compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, Bentley said.  

Bentley said independent contractors are not meant to be supervised, but the project architect job advertisement published July 8, 2011, by the county states that the individual retained may receive “supervision and direction” from county council, Hammond or Deputy Administrator Alan Davis, according to a copy of the ad.

The council voted to hire Rouse and Thompson on Aug. 18 for contract positions with no benefits, according to meeting minutes.

Bentley said neither full-time position was advertised, but Councilman Douglas E. Copenhaver Jr. said changing architects in the middle of the public safety building project wasn’t an option.

Copenhaver also indicated that Rouse and Thompson had proved themselves and that he was satisfied with their work.

By having the expertise on staff, Copenhaver said the county would save “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in the time they are employed.

“You got to spend money in order to save money,” Copenhaver said.

Petrucci, however, questioned just how much design and architectural work is needed beyond the public safety building.

“What are we going to modify (in Blue Ridge CTC space) downstairs?” Petrucci said of plans to reuse that space for additional county offices.

Petrucci said existing employees are overdue for pay raises and also indicated he concerned about unfunded mandates.

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