The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Local News

June 26, 2012

Decision could affect all county employees

CLINTON — Clinton County Board of Supervisors will look into changing vacation time for assistant county attorneys in a decision that could affect all county employees.

County Attorney Mike Wolf and Assistant Attorney Ross Barlow approached the board with a proposal to grant department head vacation benefits to assistant county attorneys at a meeting Monday.

“We don’t expect to change the work load, just add more flexibility,” Wolf said.

Assistant city attorneys do much of their work outside normal hours, according to Barlow.

“We work 24/7,” Barlow said. “We bring work home. No matter what vacation we get, there will still be the same amount of work getting done.”

Currently, attorneys receive regular employee benefits, which are as follows: Upon completion of one year of work, 10 days of vacation; seven years of work equals 15 days of vacation; 15 years of work equals 20 days of vacation; and 21 years of work equals 25 days vacation. If approved, the assistant attorneys would receive the department head vacation time, which is: Upon one year completion,10 days of vacation; for three years of work, 15 days off; for eight years of work, 20 days off; for 15 years, 25 days off; and for 20 years, 30 days off.

One of the main motivations for adding more vacation time is to bring in more attorneys and for retention.

“If you look at the private sector there is more flexibility,” Barlow said. “We’ve lost an attorney because of the stress.”

The timing for implementing a change like this is ideal with the end of the fiscal year approaching, according to Wolf. Only vacation time would be affected with no carry-over time and it would not be retroactive. The time would be subject to the employee handbook and would have to be approved by Wolf.

Human Resource Consultant Paul Greufe urged the board to consider the down side of implementing a policy like this for just one department.

“It is my personal opinion that you should have the same benefits for all county employees,” Greufe said. “You don’t want to separate the department benefits, besides those who are in charge of the departments.”

While Wolf and Barlow emphasized having the same productivity while adding flexibility, Greufe says that any department heads could say the same thing.

“It’s a slippery slope,” Greufe said. “Some would be included and some would not.”

Supervisor Jill Davisson said the attorney office is unique with a high level of professionalism.

“The amount of education and importance is significant,” Davisson said. “We want something in place that is a caveat for retention.”

Offering benefits and incentives for attorneys coming in is workable, but changing benefits later on could lead to serious problems, according to Greufe.

“It’s difficult to tell someone the professionalism isn’t there and to determine their importance,” Greufe said. “The board should have a clear cut decision to fill a specific mold.”

As for comparison to the private sector, Greufe says he has never seen a private firm have more than four weeks of vacation.

Supervisor John Staszewski said the change would only cause more problems.

“I agree with Paul,” Staszewski said. “This would create problems with other departments. We should look at the policy and find working ground for everyone.”

Being exempt employees, assistant attorneys are working outside of normal work hours without getting overtime, according to Barlow.

“Our job comes home with us,” Barlow said. “We still do our job without overtime. I think that is a distinction.”

Greufe said the policy could be applied to only exempt employees, but that would still be something he would not recommend.

“Attorneys have certain responsibilities with a license to practice law.” Wolf said. “They are subject to sanctions. Not all exempt employees have to deal with licenses. If you lose your license, you are done.”

“Case managers have licenses and other special training,” Greufe said. “This opens the door for other departments.”

Supervisor Brian Schmidt sympathized with Wolf and his department.

“I understand the county attorney’s goal, to make employees more productive,” Schmidt said. “We all need a break.”

“I don’t want to meet with a department each week about this,” Staszewski said. “We need to look at the big picture.”

The supervisors must look at the root of the problem before moving further, according to Schmidt.

“We need to re-evaluate the department head policy that was passed in 2009,” Schmidt said. “The policy was implemented for retention, which looks like the same motivation today.”

Supervisors decided to table the issue until the next meeting after more discussion with the individuals involved.

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