Tooele County Commissioners postponed voting on a proposed change in county personnel procedures Tuesday, but that did not stop citizens and employees from protesting the measure.
If enacted the proposed change will give commissioners the authority to approve or disapprove the hiring of individual employee applicants. The item lead the agenda for Tuesday night’s commission meeting.
However, before starting to discuss the item, Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg called for a motion to remove it from the agenda.
“We would like to take this proposal and present it in our department head and elected officials meeting,” he said.
Clegg next asked County Attorney Doug Hogan to explain the proposed changes.
“This is an effort to have a policy that complies with state code, is easy to understand, and can be universally interpreted the same in all departments,” Hogan said.
The county attorney described the ordinance and its accompanying policy change as more of a clarification than a change.
State code requires commissioners to define in county ordinance how they choose to exercise their consent authority in the hiring process.
Tooele County code does not define the commissioners’ consent authority and we are not in compliance with the law, Hogan said.
The county’s personnel policy and procedure manual is vague on the concept of commissioners’ consent to hire and it is open to different interpretations, according to Hogan.
“We need a policy that is easy to understand and will be interpreted the same in all departments,” he said. “Right now we have some inconsistencies.”
State code gives commissioners three different options for how they can exercise their consent authority over hiring.
Options include: consent by approval of the budget, consent by approval of an allocation of a certain number of employees to a department, or the approval or disapproval of individual applicants.
Commissioners can chose any of these options, but they must do so in the county code, the law states.
The proposed change included on Tuesday night’s agenda defined in county ordinance the approval or disapproval of individual applications by commissioners as the method to be used for hiring Tooele County employees.
Department heads will still work with human resources and go through the screening and interview process and then present their final choice to the commissioners for approval, according to Hogan.
“As a department head, I need to make a case and convince two out of three commissioners that this is the person to hire,” he said.
Several members of the audience came forward during the public comment period at the end of the meeting to share their thoughts on the proposed policy.
One of them was retired county employee Susan Kroff.
“Why do elected officials need your consent as commissioners for employees in their office?” she asked. “It sounds like you are really saying they are not capable to make these decisions. What makes your decision better than their decision? We have confidence in the people that we elect.”
Ray Dixon, Tooele City resident, agreed that the public trusts the officials they elect to make hiring decisions for their departments.
“I think the less commissioners have to do with that [hiring], the better off we will be,” he said. “We have elected officials that we have elected to oversee their department. Once you have approved their budget, they should be able to hire for their department.”
Brandon Bender, a Tooele County roads department employee, suggested a change in the language of the proposal.
“If you changed it to ‘advise,’ not so you have the final say, it would be better,” he said. “Advisement sounds less scary.”
Christine Connelly, who works in the county assessor’s office, said she trusts her boss to pick who works on their team.
“Please give this a lot of consideration,” she said. “Let my supervisor run her office and you run yours. Let’s make this a happy place. If you guys stir the pot and change the temperature in the oven, you’re going to hear from a few of us.”
Commissioner Jerry Hurst explained that a discussion with department heads will clear up most of the concerns.
“I think some people misunderstand,” he said. “They are afraid that it is going to be a one-man show with one commissioner saying ‘no you can’t have this guy’ and that’s not how it is going to be.”
Clegg said there have been some cases where having a policy like this in place would have helped in the hiring process.
“I can’t name names, but there have been people hired that had to be terminated during their probationary period,” he said. “Had the commissioners known about them before they were hired, we would not have given approval.”
Clegg explained that commissioners would exercise a veto like power before an applicant is given a job offer.
“We won’t be involved in the selection process, we won’t influence the selection one way or another,” he said. “We do need more oversight before jobs are offered to people to reduce the county’s liability, to make sure our hiring practices don’t get us sued.”
The commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to pull the proposed item from the agenda. It will be discussed at a future department head and elected officials meeting, and then brought back to a commission meeting for a vote.
No timeline was given for that process.