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Supes OK consultants for ‘respectful workplace’

By From page A1 | February 07, 2014

El Dorado County Supervisors authorized the Chief Administrative Office and the Human Resources Department to move forward on hiring one or more contractors to develop a policy that will result in establishing the county as an employer with a “Respectful Workplace.” More commonly known as an “anti-bullying” policy, the board voted unanimously to spend an amount “not to exceed $140,000″ for expert consultants.

Responding to District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco’s assumption that the county already has numerous relevant policies in place, H.R. director Pamela Knorr said, “We have a procedural void rather than a lack of policies.” She added that they need to be gathered into a central location and eventually incorporated into a larger document of “Personnel Rules.” Currently, she noted that her department follows up on “any reports or complaints (and) puts 100 percent into all complaints.”

The recommendation to hire outside contractors was on the Jan. 21 board agenda. At that time, Knorr gave a slide presentation on the importance of respect in the workplace. She told supervisors that while federal civil rights laws prevent discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity and religion, they are aimed at “protected classes of people” and generally do not protect against “disrespectful conduct violations.”

A significant element in the proposed contracts will be conducting a “workplace culture assessment,” Knorr explained to supervisors. Tuesday she repeated the need for the comprehensive assessment. Describing the issue as one with “a lot of moving pieces,” she said, “We want some kind of measurement of where we are (because) management and supervisors don’t always know.” In justifying the expense, at least in part, she stated “it’s crucial that the assessment be impartial.”

Jere Copeland, executive director of the El Dorado County Employees Association Local 1, said his membership supports the proposal, noting that he often gets calls from county staff about bullying. “There’s a problem out there that we need to deal with,” Copeland said.

Several individuals in the audience agreed the county has a problem, but not all were optimistic about the corrective action plan.

“I’m not at all convinced throwing $140,000 at the problem (will make it go away),” Evelyn Veerkamp said. “Will it go away or just go away from public view? There’s been a climate of intimidation here for decades, (and) it’s unlikely that you don’t know about it and who is doing it,” she challenged the board. “Give the HR director the autonomy to clear it up, but I don’t think it will (work).” Veerkamp went on to call the revolving door of 11 HR directors in the last decade, “symptoms of a serious cancer.” (Evelyn Veerkamp is District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp’s cousin.)

Sue Taylor agreed that impartiality is needed and quipped, “I hear more complaints than HR.” She also reiterated that workplace culture and therefore change “starts at the top.”

Melody Lane called “surveys and interviews “of county employees “pointless” and advised that $140,000 would not provide a guarantee that bullying would stop. She also repeated what she told the board last week, that the administration has three tools beginning with a first choice, “do the right thing.” Second, “exhaust administrative remedies” and finally the last choice and least preferred, “litigation, which is expensive to the taxpayers.”

Mikulaco described the change effort as “like a big ship on the ocean; it takes a long time to turn.”

Just ahead of the board’s vote, Brian Veerkamp reaffirmed supervisors’ commitment “to improving problems in the workplace culture. Solve them all? Maybe not, but what we do is all for the benefit of the county.”

Referring back to the earlier discussion, Veerkamp asserted, “Politics played a big part in the issue of the 11 HR directors. We’re not measuring up in efficiency, so let’s fix it.”

District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting had requested the item be taken off the consent calendar so that it could be discussed in greater detail. He acknowledged that supervisors must “lead from the top. I pulled this because I’m torn by this … It has to stop,” Nutting said.

The board’s vote authorizes the county’s purchasing agent to “execute a contract or contracts for services and approve a budget transfer of $140,000 from the General Fund contingency to the Human Resources budget.”

The assessment and related policy development is expected to take several months.

Chris Daley

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