We were disappointed last week in comments made by Wally Henry, coordinator of the Clinton County Emergency Management Agency, as it relates to compensation time he feels he is entitled to despite being a salaried employee.

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Henry, as an administrator, is exempt and not subject to comp or overtime pay. However, he told the local EMA Commission about an incident last April at the nuclear power plant in Cordova, Ill. The words that stuck out were spoken as follows:

“You folks don’t know how close you came. We were required to stay in our emergency operations center from 8 o’clock in the morning until midnight. Do you really think I should work until midnight, get home at 1 a.m. and be at the office the next day at 8 o’clock?”

First of all, why did Henry wait until February to tell the EMA commission about a major incident that allegedly took place in April? And why, when we called the power plant, did officials say the most recent incident was way back in 2003 and that the public was never in any danger? And furthermore, why is Henry using public safety as a bargaining ploy?

If Henry felt like he wasn’t going to be able to function at work the next morning thanks to an all-nighter, he should have called in sick or taken a personal day. If he isn’t comfortable working at a job that requires him to be on call and perhaps on duty 24 hours a day, then perhaps he ought to seek employment in a job that pays hourly wages and offers overtime benefits.

The county has made no secret about the nature of the position, both before Henry accepted the job and in the years he has carried out its duties. As we all know from watching the Gulf Coast disaster last summer, emergency management is not something that can fit into an eight-hour day. Simply put, we can’t schedule emergencies.

By Henry’s own account, he was worked about 300 hours beyond 40 per week in the past four or five years. That’s not even two extra hours per week. Henry may be the only member of a group of disgruntled salaried employees earning more than $50,000 a year while working less than an average of 42 hours a week.

Sadly, the situation has played itself out since the EMA Commission has not set formal, written policies explaining its expectations of the job and asking Henry to agree with those expectations. Along those very lines, the county attorney spelled out excellent suggestions for the commission to follow, and we suggest its members do so.

Public safety is too important to be left to chance. There is no room for confusion about duties between Henry and his employers. And since he is paid with taxpayer dollars and charged with protecting the public good, we feel safe in stating the public deserves to have this situation addressed appropriately and immediately by the responsible parties.