Jones questions county personnel policies, will propose equality protection

Ahead of tomorrow’s Aug. 7 meeting, Commissioner Holly Jones is raising a number of questions about proposed changes to Buncombe County’s personnel policies.

She plans to try amending the plan to include protection for applicants and employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Jones also aims to propose ways of encouraging workforce diversity, she says.

“The census found over 15 percent of our county’s population to be non-white, yet our employee base is almost 90 percent white, with 100 percent of senior management Caucasian,” she writes in an Aug. 6 letter to County Manager Wanda Greene that was shared with Xpress (see below). “Diversity is a huge leadership challenge throughout our community and it requires intentionality and a long-term commitment. For the seeds to be planted for future opportunities, I think it is important to include such policies in our ordinance.”

The county employs about 1,400 people. Since December of last year, Jones has been outspoken in her criticism of many of the county’s personnel policies, especially its multi-tiered system of longevity pay. Under the current policy, the amount is between 3 and 7 percent of many employees’ salaries, depending on when they were hired. However, new hires receive only a fraction of what longtime employees get (the maximum payment for employees hired after February 2011 is $300, no matter how long they work).

The plan under consideration by the Board of Commissioners aims to address that discrepancy by basing longevity pay solely on employment duration, regardless of when a worker was hired. The county would pay for the plan by reducing the paid-time-off days it offers employees by two days.

This graph was taken from the proposed county personnel ordinance and demonstrates what longevity pay rates would be under the new plan.

Jones says she thinks the proposal is a step in the right direction. However, she continues to believe the county should also cap longevity pay (she has previously proposed capping it at $3,000 a year; she now says she’s unsure of what the appropriate figure should be) — a move that would be most likely to affect only the county’s longest-serving and highest-paid employees.

“I’m encouraged that I’ve been blowing this horn about the inequity of the tiers, and I think it’s great that [staff] came up with a solution to that, as well as a way to pay for it,” she says. “I think that’s fantastic. The cap is something we need to address, but it’s progress.”

However, Jones also notes that she was surprised to see the proposed changes on the Aug. 7 meeting agenda. During the budgeting process in May and June, Greene and human resources staff defended the current system. And after Jones’ efforts to make changes failed, she was under the impression that the issue wouldn’t be brought up for a vote again until after the November elections.

A workforce-compensation study was originally scheduled to come out on Aug. 7, before any proposed changes. That study has been delayed, according to Jones. (Greene sets the meeting agendas; she responded to a request from Xpress seeking comment by saying she wouldn’t have time to discuss the issue until tomorrow morning, Aug. 7). And despite favoring some of the proposed changes, Jones says she thinks it would make more sense to see the results of the study before changing the compensation policy.

In the absence of that, Jones sent out a lengthy list of questions to Greene early in the morning on Aug. 6. Additional amendments she might make depend on the answers she gets. “There’s a lot of things I’m thinking about,” she says. Noting that the personnel ordinance is 106 pages and that she was only notified of the proposal a few days ago, Jones says she’ll push for any vote to be delayed until at least Aug. 21 in order to gather more data and public input.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in it, but there’s a lot of work that we need to do too,” she maintains.

One of her most pointed questions in the email to Greene deals with commissioner compensation, which erupted into a rancorous issue last year after it was reported in numerous media outlets that board members were the highest paid in the state. Despite moving to reduce their own pay, they remain among the most highly compensated commissioners in North Carolina, and Jones has advocated for further cuts.

“Why does a county commissioner receive a health insurance for life after only 12 years when employees have to work full time for 20 years?” she asked Greene in the email. As of early afternoon on Aug. 6, Jones said she had not yet received a response.

Read Jones’ entire Aug. 6 email to Greene (she CC’d the other four commissioners):

From: Holly Jones

Subject: Proposed Personnel Policy Ordinance
Date: August 6, 2012 7:04:45 AM EDT
To: Wanda Greene

I would like to commend the staff on the development of a more professional and cohesive format for our personnel ordinance. Clearly much effort and thought have gone into this document and I recognize all the hard work for this project. We are off to a good start. Staff’s efforts to begin to address some of the structural inequities that I have raised is encouraging. Thank you for hearing some of my concerns as they relate to fairness in the workplace

While it was hard work for staff, it is likewise a huge undertaking for elected officials to review and digest this 106 page proposed personnel ordinance in 5 days. However, these policies are critical for our employees to be given fair and impartial treatment.   There are issues of transparency as well as serious financial implications in this proposed personnel ordinance. I believe it is critical that the elected officials who are adopting these personnel policies have a strong understanding of all aspects of this entire ordinance. In order to adopt this ordinance in good faith, I need additional information. I would like to request the following information:

1) A list of employees and classifications subject to the jurisdiction of the NC State Personnel Commission. What are the implications of such provisions. (Article I. Section 2)

2) A list of Part-Time Regular employees and their classification.

3) A list of Temporary employees and their classification.

4) Please clarify the inconsistency of not adopting “merit pay” but adhering to “merit principle.” It would appear that the same subjective concerns regarding compensation would present themselves with appointments and promotions. (See “Keeping the Best and Brightest” from Asheville Citizen-Times) (Article 1 Section 5)

5) Given the thorough overview of this Personnel Ordinance, why is the protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity not included in the proposed policy under equal employment?

6) Section 6, Do “employees in administrative service” include “County Clerk, County Attorney, County Finance Director, Board of Elections Director?”

7) Section 6. Please define “order”. Does this interpretation include requests for information or answers to questions?

8) Section 7 requires a copy of the personnel ordinance be kept in the county manager’s office and human resource office. To be perfectly transparent and clear to all Buncombe County employees, why not make this ordinance available through easier to access mediums? ex. Webpage

9) When was the last salary schedule adopted by Buncombe County Commissioners?

Articie IV

10) Section 13. “At-Will.” How does a 24 month probationary period stack up in light of best practice of recruitment, particularly as relates to the recruitment tool for Gen X, Y and Z?   What other local employers require this length of time? Are there any mechanisms to appeal to the state for a waiver for our social service and health workers?

11) Section 8: Limitation of Employment of Relatives. Is any part of Section 8: A- E. new or was it in earlier policy??

Article VI:

12) Section 6: Why isn’t the inequity of tiers being addressed for annual leave?

Article VII

13) Please provide a complete list of current Buncombe County employee classifications with estimated 2012 annual longevity payments based on the proposed schedule.

14) Upon adoption of the proposed longevity schedule, I read the total budget impact would be $700,000 and that it is covered by reducing PTO. Please provide an accounting of the cost of PTO per employee.

15) Eligibility of Coverage: Why does a county commissioner receive a health insurance for life after only 12 years when employees have to work full time for 20 years.

16) Health Insurance:  Is the health insurance benefit being proposed now equalized? I.E Will all employees now have equal access to the same health benefits?

17) How many grant funded employees does Buncombe County have?? If the positions are grant funded, why aren’t  these employees allowed access to health and dental insurance? Why are they denied this benefit if it could be funded from a grant?
Article VIII.

18) Section: 10 Is the requirement of a pre-disciplinary conference a new part of the policy??

19) Buncombe County IT Acceptable Usage Policy: Please provide more information about “not all official records are open to the public?

20) Other Items: ”Workforce Diversity:

If this is the moment we are overhauling our personnel ordinance, I would like to propose Buncombe County be intentional about promoting workforce diversity. I think to truly be an anchor institution this is matter is essential. The last accounting of Buncombe County’s workforce demographics indicated that there is work to be done to recruit and promote people of color. The census found over 15% of our county’s population to be non-white yet our employee base is almost 90% white, with 100% of senior management Caucasian.  Diversity is a huge leadership challenge throughout our community and it requires intentionality and a long-term commitment. For the seeds to be planted for future opportunities, I think it is important to include such policies in our ordnance. I am happy to attach links at the end of this email.

In closing, I was under the impression that we would be addressing the entire personnel issue after a new board was seated, which would have made a lot of sense in light of the need to look at these issues in comprehensive light.  On February 15, 2011, January 3, 2012 and June 19, 2012, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners was repeatedly exhorted to approach the topic of personnel compensation from a holistic view, not piecemeal. Given this repeated direction, it is confusing now to be addressing only parts of the compensation package and without complete data.

That said if the current board is poised to adopt this ordinance we need to work more on some very important items and engage the community. I am happy to answer any questions staff may have and provide further feedback.

Thank you.

Links to Information about Workforce Diversity policy and best practice…/GovernmentwideDIStrategic

› Human Resources

› Policies…/un/unpan000715.pdf


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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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