New county hiring bonus program approved
The Pierce County Board of Supervisors Finance & Personnel committee butted heads with Sheriff Nancy Hove Monday, Nov. 7 on the procedure for refilling the vacant chief deputy role, soon-to-be-vacant patrol lieutenant position and other management positions in the sheriff’s office.
The committee went into closed session “for the purpose of discussing the refill” of the positions listed above, but revealed nothing of that discussion after returning into open session. The committee voted unanimously to refill the management positions consistent with Pierce County policy, contingent on the review of the position descriptions by the Law Enforcement Committee and if necessary, the F& P Committee.
County Administrator Jason Matthys confirmed by email to the Journal Nov. 8 that Chief Deputy Steve Albarado submitted his retirement notice effective Nov. 2, 2022. Lt. Herman Krieg has also submitted his intent to retire, effective Nov. 18, 2022. An agenda for a Nov. 3 special F& P meeting had listed a closed session grievance hearing in closed session pursuant to a law enforcement disciplinary complaint. The agenda stated the committee would consider “dismissal, demotion, licensing, or discipline of any public employee or person licensed by a board or commission or the investigation of charges against such person…” However, that meeting was cancelled.
“Thank you for letting me fill these, but the way this all started, I put out a letter of interest,” Hove said. “Most staff who were eligible to apply for the job said they would not apply due to the pay. They are waiting to see what the pay is and where they can go with that.”
She said the hiring bonuses the committee approved earlier in the meeting (see further below) are great, but they’re not taking care of the people who have worked for the sheriff’s office for a long time. She cited the cost of training new employees and overtime as a big chunk of her budget.
“I have the right to pick who I wish,” Hove said.
She said she has been working with incoming Sheriff Chad Koranda on the current job descriptions and they’ll move forward from there.
“But we hadn’t gotten to that point yet, to posting,” she said. “I was elected by this county to run this sheriff’s office and I feel it’s part of my duty to fill these positions and keep people safe.”
When Chair Jon Aubart asked if it was her intent to follow county policy and procedure when filling those positions, she said she didn’t know if she would “follow it all the way,” that she had to look at the policy.
“So that means no,” Aubart said.
“I didn’t say no, I just said I need to look at it,” she answered.
Committee member Mel Pittman said he hopes the county and sheriff can move forward in an amicable way.
“I don’t think there is that much disparity between what the sheriff said and what was said here tonight,” Pittman said. “I think this could be worked out and we could proceed in an amicable way and we could move forward to take care of business in Pierce County.”
Committee member Michael Kahlow argued that county policy is county policy and it’s the board’s responsibility to set that policy in a way that best benefits the constituents, with checks and balances. Policies aren’t negotiated or followed half-way, he said.
“If the policy needs to be changed, it needs to be changed,” Kahlow said. “It needs to be followed for consistency’s sake.”
Matthys said in a Nov. 8 email to the Journal that the county’s personnel policy provides direction on how positions are to be refilled. The process begins with a department head making a recommendation to the administrative coordinator to refill the position, who then can authorize it or recommend the staffing plan be amended and/or recommend the revision of the position description. Any questions may be referred to F& P.
“Sheriff Hove had contacted Human Resources to inquire about the position posting of the Patrol Lieutenant position from a recruitment in 2017,” Matthys said. “Human Resources was able to resurrect that posting and provided that to Sheriff Hove. The following day, Administration learned that Sheriff Hove had disregarded the County policy and had posted for the Patrol Lieutenant position internally, without making the recommendation/ request to the Administrative Coordinator nor discussing the recruitment process which, by policy involves the Human Resource Manager, Administrative Coordinator and at times, the Committee Chairperson, particularly with the refill of key management positions.” Matthys said the recruitment process must include consideration as to conducting an outside recruitment along with internal candidates. It also requires a job application, resume or letter of interest, which in some cases can be done if the position is only offered to internal candidates, and whether the process would require a written test. He said there is a screening process that is included in the refill/recruitment policy, and the policy provides which county staff are to be involved in the interview process.
“I had emailed Sheriff Hove on Oct. 21 advising her that the current recruitment for the Patrol Lieutenant was not consistent with policy and that it could not be authorized until such time as the policy was followed,” Matthys said. “I also provided her with the specific and relevant policy language regarding position vacancies and recruitment, both of which the Sheriff is familiar with and has followed for the last 15+ years as Sheriff until this situation.
“After not receiving any response from Sheriff Hove I emailed the Sheriff again on Oct. 26, this time including staff persons within the Sheriff’s Office who may be qualified or interested in applying for the Patrol Lieutenant position so they were aware the process was not authorized. This email again provided the relevant policy language regarding the refill procedure and that since this procedure is not being followed, ‘the recruitment process will be determined by the Finance and Personnel Committee on November 7th, consistent with policy Article V., B., 1. Therefore, any current efforts regarding the recruitment for this anticipated vacancy are on hold until such time as the committee takes action to provide direction.’” Hiring bonuses
Administrative Coordinator Jason Matthys proposed a temporary policy to offer sign-on bonuses to candidates applying for positions considered part of the candidate shortage. The committee not only unanimously approved it, but amended the policy to double the amount.
“We’ve had some real challenges the last few years as far as retention and recruitment of staff,” Matthys said.
The county board recently approved a new wage matrix and giving all existing employees at least a 4% wage increase beginning Jan. 1. However, the new policy will hopefully help recruit and retain staff, Matthys said. Other counties are doing the same, he added.
He proposed a bonus of $4,000, which would be used to incentivize new hires to stay. He suggested paying a $500 sign on bonus and dispersing $500 at six months of employment, $1,000 at one year, $1,000 at 18 months, and $1,000 at two years.
Committee member and former nursing home administrator Rod Gilles said the amount was way too low.
“I was offering CNAs who make $10 an hour that ($500 sign on bonus) 10 years ago in Elmwood,” Gilles said. “We need at least double. That’s not going to attract a social worker.”
The highest number of vacancies has been in Human Services, with the pinnacle being 17 in August. Human Services Director Julie Krings said at least 10 candidates have told her not to bother making an offer due to the subpar wages.
Many positions mandated by the state are open, which creates a waiting list of people waiting for services, Krings said. A lot of hires are green right out of college and take a long time to get trained and functioning. The people on the waiting lists are those who are most vulnerable, such as those who go to a hospital with suicidal ideations.
The committee voted to make the incentive/ hiring bonus (a six-month policy) $8,000, retroactive to Oct. 3 so recent hires can benefit from the money.