Guest commentary by:
SHARON ULLMAN, former Ada Commish
Ada County Commish Fred Tilman can offer more “spin” than a Yo-Yo when it comes to talking about what he did or didn’t do to county employees’ job status.
Recently on NewsRadio 580 KIDO, Tilman talked about the County’s new at-will employment policy:
“I think a lot of people have a misconception. The ordinance that we passed simply gave people notice. It did not put anything into effect. It simply gave all the employees notice of the fact that we were moving to a new system, personnel system.”
The ordinance, unanimously passed by the commissioners on December 27 actually says:
“Effective March 1, 2007, a new Chapter 7 is hereby enacted implementing an at-will system of personnel administration. On the same date, handbooks providing the human resource policies and procedures of Ada County will be adopted by resolution of the Board of Ada County Commissioners.”
In the ordinance, the commissioners also clarified,
“At-will employees serve at the will and pleasure of their supervising elected officials. Their employment may be terminated at any time, with or without cause.”
That’s pretty clear. The deed has been done, but it does not become effective until March 1 (or when the employee handbook is completed). For Tilman to claim that, “It (the newly passed ordinance) did not put anything into effect” is pretty slippery and rivals the landfill methane gas when it comes to the “smell test.”
On AM580 KIDO Radio, Tilman continued:
“The reason we have to do that is the one (the personnel system) we’re presently operating under was ruled unconstitutional by the Idaho Supreme Court, so we have to make the change.”
It WAS necessary for the County’s old personnel system to be changed to correct legal problems. It was NOT necessary to change the status of all employees to “at will” in order to do so. The simpler fix would have been to allow all employment terminations to be appealed to the Board of Ada County Commissioners for review. That’s it.
The commishes claim the new ordinance will save taxpayers money. Probably not. A capable employee wouldn’t work for Ada County if they could make more money working in the private sector, or have more rights (and security) working for Boise City or the State of Idaho.
Taxpayers will lose in the long run. The current annual County budget for salaries and benefits exceeds $93 million. Recruiting, hiring and training employees costs money, and service suffers when turnover is high. Ada County will become, even more than it is now, a training ground for other public agencies. It costs about $50,000 to replace a Sheriff’s deputy.
Money aside, the scariest aspect of the new at-will system is that because an employee can be fired “without cause”, the County will be able to fire employees for any reason at all, including:
• political party affiliation or loyalty
• involvement in community issues
With a classified employment system, well-qualified, hard-working employees felt reasonably secure about continued employment. The at-will personnel system, is wide open to witch hunts and oldtime political patronage and probably labor unions—even if the county won’t recognize the union.
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