Orange County department heads will now have to wait six weeks to replace an employee vacancy after the commissioners court approved a hiring freeze and the establishment of a staffing review committee policy at their meeting Monday afternoon.

Jody Crump, Precinct 4 commissioner, proposed modifying the Orange County Personnel Policy to delay any new hires for six weeks. He said he received the idea after attending an continuing education course in Galveston.

The policy is designed not to double pay employees from payroll and is based on the city of El Paso’s policy. The addendum to the policy is to start a Staffing Review Committee. Crump said the county paid out more than $111,000 to outgoing employees from January 1, 2014 through February 19, 2014 alone. There will be a six-week delay for the department on the last day of the employee’s employment with the county.

Early in the discussion, John Banken, Precinct 3 commissioner, said he would second the motion if Crump would abandon the idea of a staffing committee. Crump replied the policy is not exempting the employees’ pay.

David Dubose, Pct. 1 commissioner, said he would like for the commissioners to table the motion and discuss more about the proposal. Jeff Kelley, emergency management coordinator, said he was concerned about employees with 20 years of tenure with the county being paid at that level versus new employees coming in being paid at a lower rate.

“There will be a difference,” Kelley said.

The final vote tally was 4 to 1 with Dubose voting against the proposal. He said he wanted more time to study the proposal before voting.  County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said the county had to start somewhere to begin erasing a $3.1 million deficit.

The committee will consist of Commissioners Banken and Crump, a representative from the County Auditor’s office, a representative from the County Attorney’s office (non-voting, legal advisor member) a representative from the DA’s office, a representative from the Human Resources department and a representative from the Treasurer’s office.

The new employment policy immediately had an effect.

Gene Smith, Veterans Service Officer, requested approval to fill the coordinator position at the Veterans office with the departure of Doug Childers. Dubose asked Smith if he could fill the vacant position with a part-time employee. Smith said he could, but part-time personnel often select the hours they want to work rather than being available all the time. Thibodeaux said a part-time employee may have an opportunity to go full-time. Smith said a part-time employee receives free training if they work more than 1,000 hours per year.

Dubose said citizens should thank a veteran for the freedoms in this country and he doesn’t think commissioners should be cutting the Veterans office hours at the present time.

Smith was told by the court his office would have to wait six weeks to fill the position under the new policy.  Crump added Smith can file a request with the Staffing Review Committee for a six weeks moratorium. Smith said he would like a replacement now but he will wait the six weeks.

Jim Seales, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Orange, said there are 800 VFW members in Orange, 9,000 veterans in Orange County and 32,000 veterans in Jefferson County and he can’t understand why the court wants a part-time employee because they will need training anyway. He added many more troops overseas will be coming home and everyone needs to support the troops and hire a full-time worker. Smith said he didn’t agree with the court’s decision because they were micro-managing.

“We’ll give it another shot in six weeks. It hurts the department, it hurts the veterans and widows, the whole team,” he said.

In other county business, commissioners approved authorizing Thibodeaux to sign the Texas General Land Office contract for street repairs in the county under Hurricane Ike Round 2.2 funding.

The county may have to wait until April or May to see any action done due to environmental studies being completed. The court approved filling seasonal employee driving positions for the Mosquito Control District. Patrick Beebe, director of the Mosquito Control District, safety training hours for drivers has been decreased from a required 42 hours to five hours. Eight drivers are needed to drive the trucks.

The court announced they changed bank accounts from Capital One to First Financial Bank, formerly Orange Savings Bank.Capital One began charging for wiring fees and First Financial will give the county the same rates as Capital One without the wiring fees.

Orange County hiring freeze and staffing review committee policy 

The commissioners’ court wants to assure minimal impact to services to citizens, while being fiscally responsible and implements the following amended policy:

Applicability of hiring freeze:

The six-week hiring freeze will apply to positions that become vacant in all departments. Of those departments that the authority of the policy is in question, the court asks for voluntary participation in the spirit of fiscal responsibility in the county budget and the community. The six-week waiting period begins on the day after the final day the employee is employed by the county. Certain positions are exempted from the six-week waiting period. Positions automatically exempted are front line customer service positions where collecting of money is a primary function of the job.

Those that are statutorily required where only one position exists in the department to perform the function to only include bailiff, court coordinator and court reporter. Positions covered under a collective bargaining agreement. Positions 100 percent funded with special revenues (e.g. Roads & Bridges and law library). Positions 100 percent funded with grant funds. Positions 100 percent funded with discretionary funds that cannot be used to offset general fund expenses. Positions that originally met the six weeks waiting period and then become vacant within six months from that date. Positions that are filled with employees who are current county employees unless funds will be paid out to the employee vacating the position due to unused accrued compensatory time. Positions that are vacated and no funds are paid to the person vacating the position beyond hours worked.

Newly elected officials or those appointed to elected positions who replace unfrozen budgeted positions that are exempt under law or the Civil Service rules or exempted by the Civil Service Commission are not required to go through the hiring freeze waiver process the first time they replace the unfrozen positions.

Committee to review requests for hiring freeze exceptions: A five member committee organized by the Human Resources director to review requests for exceptions from the six-week hiring freeze and other personnel related exceptions during the time this freeze is in effect will be created.

This committee is known as the Staffing Review Committee. Members of the committee will include representatives from the following: Two representatives from the commissioners’ court, County Auditor’s office, County Attorney’s office (non-voting, legal advisor member), Human Resources office, County Treasurer’s office, District Attorney’s office

The committee will review requests for exception to the six-week hiring freeze as soon as reasonable after requests are presented. The SRC members may also assess the current staffing table and review requests from departments to modify or add staffing levels. The committee may be tasked to review additional staffing related matters as well. The committee would provide recommendations to commissioners court on the matters it reviews. Guidelines for requests for exceptions:

Requests for exceptions will be submitted to the committee through the HR department on the Exception Request Form. The request must address any of the following criteria if applicable:

Position functions that are critical to the health, welfare and safety of the public in general

Position functions that are critical to revenue generation for the county

Position functions that are critical to the care and safety (direct care) for persons that are in legal custody of the county or when a direct services is involved

Positions and functions that are part of a caseload staffing requirements that are typically established through statute, licensing, certification, or accreditation requirements

Positions and functions where there is a legal liability for failure to perform the service

How the current responsibilities are being managed

Why they cannot continue being managed in this way for the six-week period

The consequences of not filling the position immediately

The cost impact of filling the position early

The committee will review whether the position meets the criteria described herein and if the situation warrants the exception. Exceptions approved by majority of committee was placed on the next available commissioners’ court agenda for final approval.

Temporary employment

A.  If an employee is out on an unpaid leave, the department can fill the position with a temporary employee for a period not to exceed six months so long as it is consistent with the period of time the regular employee will be out on unpaid leave. Because there is no budgetary impact, the temporary may be hired without SRC or commissioners court approval.

B.  If an employee is out on paid mandatory required leave for a period expected to last longer than 10 days, and the department has the funds in its current budget to pay for a temporary employee, the department shall:

Request the Auditor’s Office verify that funds are available

Request that the HR Office verify that 1) the employee is out on a mandatory required leave, and 2) the time frame the temporary employee is being requested for does not exceed the time of the mandatory required leave

Requests of this nature do not require SRC approval prior to going to commissioners court for approval.

C.  If an employee is out on a mandatory required leave for a period expected to last longer than 10 days, and the department does not have the funds in its current budget to pay for a temporary employee, the request must go to the SRC to make a recommendation to commissioners court on the request.

Temporary employees for cases where the department has allowed the regular employee to go out on paid leave for non-mandatory required leave shall not be considered.