January 5, 2022 Camden County Commission meeting at 10:00 a.m.

All the commissioners were present. The only other person in the audience besides Camden County employees was Lydia Porter who is running for Presiding Commissioner in the upcoming election.

A number of people present at the meeting were recovering from various bouts with pneumonia or the flu. Presiding Commissioner Hasty came in wearing a face mask so he was obviously trying to avoid catching whatever it was that was going around. I made a conscious effort to hold my breath as long as possible during the meeting.

The first agenda item was the Employee Handbook. The elected officials have been meeting for months to develop and revise the Employee Handbook for Camden County. The Auditor presented a few changes to the Commission for their approval.

The new version of the handbook had attempted to change the way the county handled vacation time. The Handbook Committee decided to revert back to the old vacation table that had previously been used for employee vacation time. If I understood the Auditor correctly, in addition to vacation, employees will get two personal days each year and a personal day on their birthday.

There used to be no cap on the amount of sick time that employees could accumulate. This created budget problems for the county because when employees retired, Camden County would have to pay out the employee sick time hours at 50% of the hourly rate. It was difficult for the county to predict when employees would retire and large sick time banks meant that the county could have large unforeseen expenditures for sick time payouts whenever groups of employees would retire .

The new version of the handbook initially set a cap of 720 sick hours for employees, but it sounded like this revision will establish a new cap based on how many hours the employees work each week. It was my impression from quietly listening like a little church mouse that employees will be given an option to cash out their current sick time to conform with the cap or lock in their current sick bank if it’s above the cap.

It’s understandable that these changes have caused some concerns among the county workforce. Commissioner Williams stated that while the Employee Handbook Committee has put a lot of work into developing the handbook, he felt county employees should be included on the committee in the future. They can then offer their input from an employee perspective.

My opinion: Putting a cap on employee sick time is a good idea because it encourages employees to use their sick time when they’re sick instead of socking it away into what basically becomes a retirement bonus account. When I was a supervisor, it drove me crazy when detectives would show up for work sick because they would then spread it to everyone else and I’d end up with an entire shift of sniffling and wheezing zombies shuffling around. I would usually send people home if I found out they were sick because at the very least, I didn’t want to catch whatever they had.

This sounded like an even better idea as I warily looked around the room at all of the people who were under the weather.

Commissioner Williams next mentioned that he had a concern about a policy in the Employee Handbook that authorized elected officials to search their employees. The presenters explained that the policy did not authorize elected officials to search the actual employees, but would authorize a search of their briefcases, purses, desks, backpacks, and their work areas. There was some discussion of the legality of such a policy. The Auditor stated that case law established that this sort of policy was legal. After a discussion and clarification that the policy did not authorize the searching of the employee’s person, Commissioner Williams seemed to be satisfied.

The Commission approved the revisions to the Employee Handbook unanimously.

Based on my experience, while a search policy might ensure that the searcher is complying with county policy, it doesn’t mean that such a search won’t be challenged legally. Having such a policy will help the county’s case, but it is definitely an approach that should only be used in the most serious situations. It would be a good idea if they added that an elected official could only conduct such a search with the approval of a commissioner so the county can have someone not directly associated with the employee review the circumstances and assess whether such a search is reasonable and justified. In fact, at my old job, my county had all county employees sign an express waiver of their rights against search of their computers and work spaces as a condition of employment, but even that wasn’t an ironclad defense against a lawsuit.

Someone asked when a situation like this had come up before at a county workplace. Charlie McElyea remembered an incident about 20 years ago, but I remembered that just about a year ago, the maintenance men went into Commissioner Gohagan’s desk when he wasn’t there and removed the magazine from his handgun that was kept there. Oh, how quickly people forget.

This meeting was probably some of the best work I’ve seen Commissioner Williams perform at a Commission meeting. He was really engaged and raised some great issues during the discussion. He was genuinely concerned about involving the county employees in the handbook process and took center stage in advocating for their rights.

The second agenda item was a tax abatement. Hampton Condos LLC had property tax due from prior years and made an automated payment that was only a partial payment on the total amount that was in arrears. According to the representative from the Collector’s Office, once property tax is owed from past years, you can’t make a partial payment on the total amount. It must be paid in full. If the payment had been made in person, the Collector’s Office would have rejected the payment, but since it was made online, the automated system accepted it. As a result, the property owner will be refunded the partial amount and it will remain unpaid until the full amount is given to the county.

The tax abatement was approved unanimously.

The final agenda item was for the Emergency Management Agency Promulgation. This was some sort of formal announcement and the rare use of the word “promulgation” tied up a lot of tongues. I believe it means “to put into effect.” The Commission was given a copy of the 2022 Emergency Operations Plan for Camden County and it sounded like a lot of work had gone into developing it.

It was almost as thick as Camden County’s new Unified Land-Use Code.

Just kidding. Nothing is that thick.

The director of the EMA wanted to have a formal picture taken with the Commission to commemorate the occasion, but the commissioners seemed about as eager to have their picture taken as my family when my wife wants to dress us all up for our Christmas card photo. I guess that photo might have to wait until next year. Just like Monica’s Christmas card.

And that was that.

3 thoughts on “January 5, 2022 Camden County Commission meeting at 10:00 a.m.

  1. I’d think the county attorney would want to be present for the discussion re searches of employees and their ‘persons, papers, and effects.’ Think I could draft a better search policy in short order.

    Liked by 1 person

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