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Hempstead County Quorum Court Holds Special Meeting

By Staff, 03/4/21 6:39 PM

The Hempstead County Quorum Court met Thursday for a special called meeting to consider the proposed new handbook for county employees.  Handbook Committee Chairman James Griffin termed the meeting “not a quorum court meeting but a meeting of quorum court members” to discuss the handbook.  Griffin turned the proceedings over to JP Ed Darling.  Darling explained some law changes that affect county employees and that “Wage & Hour” changed the law on what is an “exempt” employee.  He explained a monetary requirement and a supervisor situation.   He also noted there is perceived inequity in between the courthouse employees who work 35 hours per week and the road department who work 40 hours.  Darling said they can leave the current courthouse employees at 35 hours per week and new employees would be hired on an hourly basis. County Attorney Jim Burke advised the county to go to paying all employees on an hourly basis.  Darling said the county also needs to look at how they can more fairly compensate veteran employees who are currently paid essentially the same as new hires.  JP Troy Lerew asked about vacation policy.  A courthouse employee asked if they will be paid hourly. Darling explained they will continue to work no more than 35 hours.  Darling said there may be extended courthouse hours. He said he has had more calls about needing extended courthouse hours than anything else.  Several in the audience protested and also pointed that much work can be done online.  JP Jay Lathrop said most surrounding counties are open from 8am or 8:30am until 4:30pm.  One employee said 8:30 as an opening time would be almost impossible to get things ready for 9am court days.  The JP’S looked at a motion to extend hours to 4:30pm.  After a second, discussion ensued.  Assessor Kim Smith said staggered staffers during her busy time would result in reduced service. An employee said that 8am to 4pm has worked for years. Diane Westbrook said staggered hours in the collector’s office wouldn’t work as their office is currently overrun.  JP David Clayton said the issue is offering extended hours for John Q. Public.  He said he doesn’t think it’s fair for citizens to have to take off work to come to the courthouse. He also said he has tried to figure out what can work for the county employees.  There was discussion from the Treasurer’s office. Treasurer Judy Flowers said it is unreal what the employees give without compensation.  Flowers also said the employees had offered to work “4 tens” like the road department and/or have one day where they are open later or earlier.  James Griffin said the hour lunch wouldn’t be removed.  Another employee asked about employees who are “on call”.  Judge Crane noted this employee works at the pleasure of a court judge.  Assessor Kim Smith suggested the JP’S let them work one day until 4:30pm.  JP Clayton suggested 3 days open until 4:30.  JP Jesse Henry suggested trying a couple of late days.  JP Steve Atchley noted the issues with staggering employees and also issues with the court.  It was suggested Henry make a motion on his suggestion.  Henry suggested getting suggestions from the department heads.  Charles Hawley, the husband of an employee of 42 years told the JP’S “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.  Darling said his concern is that all employees are not being treated equally.

The motion on the floor was amended to have representatives from the five elected offices and the judge’s office to determine which two days they will be open late.  After questions from an employee, JP Jay Lathrop suggested a trial period of 2 to 3 months.

JP David Clayton suggested leaving the courthouse hours the same until the courthouse moves.  Griffin suggested the JP’S go ahead with the motion on the floor to extend hours and set the trial period to be through 2021.  This motion carried unanimously.  So the courthouse will be open 8 to 4 three days and two days 8am to 4:30 after it moves to the new downtown location.  The days will be determined by a committee.  It is anticipated this won’t start any earlier than June.

The JP’S looked at sick leave policies.  JP Clayton suggested they strike a clause which would call for a person to possibly visit a sick employee’s home to verify their illness. HIPPA was mentioned and County Attorney Jim Burke said HIPPA would not affect this.  The JP’S looked at striking this section. Steve Atchley said the policing of sick leave would be done by the county officials.. The JP’s voted to strike it.

Bereavement leave was discussed including possibly providing proof of attendance to funerals.  The JP’S also discussed expanding the language of family members to include in-laws.  Vacation was discussed and it was agreed this will be looked at later.  Tobacco use policies were clarified.  Darling made a suggestion on changes on salary increase requests.

JP David Clayton moved they approve the handbook with the changes noted.  The handbook was unanimously approved.  James Griffin noted this was a committee meeting and another vote will come at the next regular quorum court meeting.

JP David Clayton also stressed their support for all county employees.  The meeting then adjourned.