Personnel policy revisited

Published 10:22 am Thursday, March 21, 2013

JACKSON – Does the ordinance stand?

That is the question from the Northampton County Board of Commissioners about the county’s personnel policy manual.

On Monday, the commissioners directed County Manager Wayne Jenkins to contact the Institute of Government to seek clarification on the county’s personnel policy manual.

The revisit to the topic came following new information provided by Jenkins that showed proper procedure to create an ordinance establishing the personnel policy manual was not followed in 1979 by the then sitting board.

At a special called meeting on Feb. 27, the commissioners voted to approve the creation of an assistant county manager position and advertised internally. There was documentation provided to the public that suggested Assistant to the County Manager and Board Clerk Kimberly Turner was favored for that position.

In addition there was a heated discussion between the board and County Attorney Charles Vaughan whether or not the position should be advertised. Vaughan insisted the county had an personnel policy established by ordinance (which required the position to be advertised) and therefore the board had to abide by it. Meanwhile, the board believed their personnel policy had been established by resolution in which they could evoke Statute 153A-76, which allows them to reorganize county offices.

During commissioner comments Commission Chair Robert Carter asked Jenkins about the matter, noting that the board and Turner had been “lambasted by the media” following their previous discussion and decision.

“To clear the air, I want to ask our county manager, since our county attorney (Charles Vaughan) said we had an ordinance based on the personnel policy, to produce all documentation pertaining to that ordinance because when you have an ordinance you have to have a public hearing,” said Carter. “Am I right about that county manager?”

“You are correct,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins said he researched the matter back to 1979 when the first personnel policy manual was developed.

Jenkins said the records indicate the manual was approved in a 4-1 vote by the then sitting board of commissioners. A local ordinance requires a public hearing for comment.

“In the past, we all have experienced when there is an amendment to an ordinance or a new ordinance and there was not an unanimous vote—maybe a member was out or some one voted against it—it forced the reading twice for two majority votes by board,” he said. “Further research of the records indicated there was no finding of a public hearing and there was no finding on the second vote. The manual says it was an ordinance, but in fact it wasn’t supported by proper actions by the board at that time.”

In 1989, the commissioners appointed a committee to revise the manual.

The action of the board was in favor of revised amendments to the personnel policy in a 4-1 vote.

“My findings indicate there were no public hearings held for either the adoption of the original one adopted in 1979 or any amendments of the policy since then,” Jenkins said.

In November, the personnel policy was updated by the current board by resolution.

“First of all there is no evidence it was approved in accordance with the required statutes in adopting an ordinance,” he said. “The second question is that if we have no ordinance you are well within your rights to amend and adopt the new one by resolution. The worse that you could be in is it’s a de facto ordinance you could repeal and abolish it and it’s off the books. But there is no evidence it is on the books.”

After discussion, Commissioner Chester Deloatch offered a motion to draft questions to the Institute of Government to seek clarification regarding the county personnel policy manual. Commission Chair Virginia Spruill offered a second and the motion. The board agreed to have Jenkins to copy Vaughan on the letter.

The motion passed without objection.