County OKs anonymous complaints

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- County officials have taken steps to protect residents who make anonymous complaints.

At a recent meeting, commissioners approved a new policy that no longer requires complaints be kept in writing with contact information of the complainant. This practice, according to Development Services Director Scott Sirotkin, "nullified the ability of anyone to truly make an anonymous complaint" because such documents are subject to the Open Records law.

Staff for some time has allowed complaints to be made anonymously over the phone, but since this is not in keeping with the policy, Sirotkin asked for formal approval from the board. The policy also states that complainants be notified that a refusal to testify in court may make it difficult to prosecute violations.

In other news, commissioners also approved changes to the county's personnel policy. The deadline for using compensatory time was increased from 60 to 90 days. Jenny Carter with the County Attorney's Office explained that employees are accruing more overtime due to staffing reductions and increasing the time period to take compensatory time will give department heads more flexibility.

Employees will also now accrue leave monthly following their first anniversary. Previously, leave time was accrued annually. There have been cases where employees have worked nearly an entire year and then were laid off and lost their accrued time, Carter said.

She added that employee response to that policy change has been "overwhelmingly positive."

Commissioner Nancy Schulz said such a change will increase employee morale and added that it's important for the county to find ways to do that "especially as much as we've asked employees to contribute to our savings."

The policy was also changed to add suspension without pay as a disciplinary action. Previously, the only options were salary reduction, demotion or dismissal. That gives the county more options when an offense doesn't justify termination, Carter said. Suspension without pay for disciplinary reasons is allowed for up to 30 days.

Also, a three-strike template for addressing disciplinary issues has been eliminated. The policy previously provided for a progressive discipline approach consisting of an oral warning for a first offense, written warning for second offense and notice of termination on the third offense. This "seems to set up unreasonable expectations there will be three tries and in certain cases, offenses just don't merit that," Carter said, adding that some first offenses are grave enough to merit termination.

The policy was also changed to add a probationary period of up to six months after the initial probationary period is up, if it is determined an employee's performance has not been satisfactory during the initial period, which lasts 12 months for public safety employees and six months for other employees. Work test periods of six months for employees who are transferred, demoted or promoted to a new position may also now be extended by another six months.