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Hire is null and void

By NICK NARIGON

The Iowa County Conference Board denied the hire of a new deputy assessor June 10 after a candidate had already been offered the position.

According to the minutes of the May 25 conference board meeting, the board gave Iowa County Assessor Linda Griggs permission to staff her department how she saw fit. In turn, Griggs sent an offer letter to Carrie Gritton, the Cedar County Auditor, to start as a clerk in the assessor’s office at the salary of $43,500, or 75 percent of the assessor’s salary.

At the May 25 meeting, Iowa County Conference Board Chair Linda Yoder said the board was told they did not have to take action on the hire. The board was advised by Griggs a motion was not needed at that time because the code of Iowa allows the assessor to set her staff and wages so long as they are within the budget.

However, Yoder said after discussing the issue with Iowa County Assistant Attorney Lou McMeen and human resources consultant Paul Greufe, it was learned the conference board does need to approve the salary and staffing changes within the assessor’s office.

Since Gritton was supposed to start her position June 14, the conference board met June 11 to formally approve, or disapprove, the hire.

With a vote of 0-2, the conference board denied offering Gritton the clerk’s position.

Iowa County Supervisors Yoder, Ray Garringer, Bill Keegan and Dale Walter voted in opposition to the hire. Supervisor Charles Montross voted in favor of hiring Gritton. This accounted for one “no” vote from the supervisors.

Williamsburg Mayor Frank Murphy voted in favor of hiring Gritton, while Parnell Mayor Jolinda Schlesselman voted in opposition. The draw accounted for a “no” vote from the mayoral faction of the conference board.

Williamsburg School Board member Darren Spenler was the only school board member in attendance at the June 10 conference board meeting. There must be two members in attendance in order for the school board faction to vote on the issue.

An executive committee of Montross, Schlesselman and Spenler will work with Griggs to bring another staffing proposal before the conference board at a date to be determined.

RESTRUCTURING THE ASSESSOR’S OFFICE

At the May 25 meeting, Griggs presented an office structure that would include three full-time positions, including benefits, plus two or three part-time positions. Part-time persons would be used to cover the office while staff is attending training, or to do field work. The pay would be $12 to $15 an hour.

In addition, Griggs planned to hire Vanguard Appraisals to handle the new construction and review list.

In the fiscal year 2010, Griggs said the assessor’s office had five full-time positions, including benefits, for a cost of $292,621.

In fiscal year 2011, there were four full-time positions and a 30-hour a week position, including benefits, for a cost of $296,332.

Under the new office structure presented to the conference board by Griggs, she said it would cost the county $240,000, for a savings of $56,000 a year.

“This would be possible with streamlining office procedures, utilizing the computer software programs and hands on training with appraisers,” Griggs said. “Looking at the big picture, this would be an estimated cost savings to the tax payers of $560,000 over a 10 year period.”

Part of the plan included hiring Gritton as an assistant at the salary of $43,500. After a favorable performance review and depending on whether Gritton passed the deputy assessor exam provided by the Iowa Department of Revenue, her salary would increase to 80 percent of Griggs’ salary, or $46,400.

Griggs said it was her understanding from the May 25 meeting it was acceptable to move forward with these changes, and the June 10 meeting was merely a formality.

“What I brought to the board last time was a different approach, a different structure, a way to save the county money,” Griggs said. “After spending some time in the office, and seeing what needs to be done to get it to run, the work flow, the process, to get everything up to date, we need more management type and maybe hire the data entry and data collection as part-time positions.”

CHANGING DIRECTIONS

Yoder, who as chair of the Iowa County Board of Supervisors is the acting chair of the conference board, said Griggs sent the letter to Gritton in good faith because “she thought she had the authority to do it and the conference board backed her.”

“Then we found out the conference board is the one who has to set the salary and has to set the position. We are the wrong people here. You want to blame somebody. We are the ones in the wrong,” Yoder said. “First of all, the conference board did not handle this correctly. Now, if there is any responsibility to be put on anyone, I will take the responsibility. I am the chair of the conference board and I did look into it. I did not check the code as carefully as I should have.”

Yoder said she was concerned about the discrepancies between the position as it was advertised in the newspaper and the actual position offered to Gritton.

Yoder said the position was advertised as a clerk’s position, and there was no mention that it could possibly be a deputy position. Yoder also said that interested applicants were told the salary for the position was in the range of $17, or approximately $34,000.

“So when people saw this, and they applied, they thought they were applying for a clerk’s position? When did it change to something more than a clerk’s position?” Yoder said. “If this had been listed in the paper as a deputy’s position, possibly there would have been other people apply for it that were qualified for that position. This position right here was listed as a clerk. It was not listed as an assistant or deputy position, which was the position offered to Carrie in her offer letter.”

Yoder said she has a problem with the fact the position was advertised as a clerk position, and not as a deputy, position, yet Gritton was offered the compensation package for an assistant/deputy position.

The conference board does have the issue that Gritton has resigned from her position in Cedar County as auditor.

After talking with McMeen on the phone during the June 10 meeting, Yoder said it was his opinion that the county does have a liability if they rescind the offer letter.

“The county attorney told me very plainly, that if this letter is not approved… then we are going to have a liability,” Yoder said. “He said that is something the conference board is going to have to decide. Do you want the possibility of a lawsuit from the person who thinks they are starting Monday at 75 percent, or do you want to take some other action and have her informed this is not what she is going to get. He said we have a liability. A total and complete liability.”

Supervisor Dale Walter said his belief is that a new employee to the county should start at the beginning salary for a clerk and should earn the same benefits as laid out in the employee handbook. Walter expressed this belief at both the May 25 and the June 10 conference board meetings.

“I don’t like hiring people and putting them in front of the current employees we already have, whether it be money or whether it be benefits,” Walter said. “People work to accrue these benefits. I just don’t think it’s right. If that practice hadn’t been done, by hiring somebody and putting them ahead of current employees, we wouldn’t be sitting here tonight. There needs to be structure and it needs to be followed by all departments, not just some.”

SALARY DIFFERENCE

Several Iowa County employees attended the June 10 meeting do express their displeasure that the new hire would earn nearly the same amount as a department head, and significantly more than clerks in other departments.

Iowa County Auditor Kristen Miller said 75 percent of the assessor’s salary is much higher than 75 percent of the salary of other department heads.

She said 75 percent of Griggs’ salary is $43,500 and 75 percent of Miller’s salary is $34,301.

Miller said she currently has a clerk who has been with the county two years and earns $34,301. In addition, she said her assistant is at 85 percent of Miller’s salary and she earns $38,800. Miller said she herself, as an elected official, earns $45,735, less than 80 percent of Griggs’ salary.

“There has always been hard feelings in the courthouse about salaries, right or wrong,” Miller said. “When I started with the county 17 years ago, I had a great working relationship with everybody in every department, and it is not there today. The people do not get along, and a lot of it is because of things simply like this.”

Miller also asked why the county would raise the salary of the assessor, the deputy assessor and possibly the office manager, and then hire Vanguard to train the employees.

“I have almost 55 years of experience total with the girls in my office, and I put on my first election Tuesday night, and I didn’t run that election, my employees ran that election,” Miller said. “They held their own and I feel unfortunate, my assistant has been here for 17 years, my deputy has been here for 12 years, and I have to look them in the eye and I have to tell them, sorry, this person is going to be making more than you, starting brand new and fresh and needing to be trained to do her job.”

Iowa County Sheriff’s Office dispatch coordinator Ella Kaiser said the three full-time employees in the assessor’s office would make $55,000 less than the county’s six full-time dispatchers and one part-time dispatcher. She said the dispatchers cover 8,736 hours a year, while the employees in the assessor’s office would work 1,950 hours a year.

“You see the huge discrepancy in that?” said Kaiser.

THE NON-DECISION

Montross first made a motion June 10 to honor the offer letter sent to Gritton.

“We are liable, especially when a letter was sent. She went to her board and resigned,” Montross said.

Murphy was the only other conference board member to vote in favor of honoring the offer.

Supervisor Garringer said the county might get sued either way.

“Do we have liability? Let’s face it, how many lawsuits is the county involved in today? We are liable all the time for stuff. It’s just what we do,” Garringer said. “Obviously legally, the salary has to be set by the conference board and it wasn’t. Does that mean we aren’t going to get sued? I think there is an issue out there anyway that may get us sued on this.”

Walter then made a motion to offer the clerk’s position as it was advertised, with a salary of $32,015 a year, the same amount as the lowest paid clerk in the county.

Schlesselman, who was not present at the May 25 meeting, said it is her feeling that all the employees under Griggs should be paid the same as clerks in other county departments. She said she is also concerned the county advertised the position as a clerk, and not as a deputy.

“I have a problem with doing the position when it wasn’t advertised as a deputy position. It should have been straightforward,” Schlesselman said. “We have put (Griggs) in a very awkward position. I think Linda is a very valuable employee. I don’t want to jeopardize her position… but I think everybody should be on the same wage.”

Four of the five supervisors approved Walter’s motion, but only one of the two mayors approved the motion, thus it died.

The conference board adjourned June 10 without taking any action, thus Gritton cannot be hired at this time. The executive committee will meet with Griggs and bring a plan before the conference board at a later date.

UPDATED June 15, 2010 12:24 PM

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