Change to county grievance procedure tabled

Robin Fornoff

Curry County commissioners were poised Friday to delete a grievance procedure from their employee personnel policy.

Then, four department chiefs objected and the measure failed in a flurry of confusing motions and procedures.

“This is ridiculous,” said Commissioner Frank Blackburn, who minutes earlier had aligned himself with Commissioner Robert Sandoval to leave the grievance procedure intact by killing a motion supported by Chairman Wendell Bostwick and Commissioner Caleb Chandler to accept the change.

The debate centered on a motion deleting the grievance procedure against commissioners for “contacting or discussing with county employees issues pertaining to employee’s work, work performance, working conditions or other personnel matters.”

All of it was prompted by two recent investigations of commissioner contact with employees that cost the county more than $7,000.

The first, a charge of creating a hostile work environment against Commissioner Dan Stoddard for allegedly shouting at County Manager Lance Pyle was found to have merit.

The charge was filed by a clerical employee in Pyle’s office and a private investigator — for a fee of $5,000 — concluded Stoddard may have created a hostile work environment.

Stoddard, who didn’t attend the meting Friday, has denied ever shouting at Pyle.

The second and most recent incident stems from a grievance filed in January against Sandoval by Finance Director Mark Lansford, who has since resigned to pursue other job opportunities.

Another investigator who charged $2,000 concluded Sandoval and two other commissioners, Stoddard and Chandler, had broken the county’s chain of command by contacting Lansford without going through his supervisor, who was Pyle.

At one point in the debate Friday, Bostwick asked if anyone had any objections to the proposed change and County Clerk Connie Jo Lyman was first up.

“The whole intent of a personnel policy is to protect employees,” Lyman said. “It’s not to prevent elected officials from communicating with employees.”

Lyman’s objection to changing anything in the policy was echoed by County Treasurer Bernice Baker, IT Director Aaron Jones and Sheriff Matt Murray.

“I agree that part of this personnel policy is to protect the employees,” said Bostwick. “However, under current policy … it’s being interpreted that I as a commissioner, I can’t walk into an elected official’s office and ask for anything.”

Bostwick said his major concern was the cost “and as an elected commissioner, it’s my job to address things that cost the county money.”

Chandler offered a motion to table the original motion. Blackburn countered with a call for a vote on the original motion.

It was clear if a vote was taken, it would end in a 2-2 tie without Stoddard present.

“A tie vote is a no pass,” Bostwick cautioned, noting that under commission policy any measure that fails can’t be reconsidered for at least six months.

Pyle said the matter could be handed over to the employee personnel committee, who could consider the issue and offer guidelines for maintaining chain of command.

Chandler stepped in with a motion to withdraw the entire question from the agenda to be considered at a later date and pending more input from the personnel committee.

It passed 4-0.