Pierce County filed suit against Sheriff Nancy Hove Nov. 7 in Pierce County Civil Court, claiming she has no constitutional authority to hire sheriff’s department personnel without input from other county departments and employees, and if she does so, it’s violating county policy.
At a motion hearing held Nov. 16, Judge Ramona Gonzalez ordered the county’s attorneys, Kraig Byron and Joseph Rolling, to bring forth a full Pierce County Board decision authorizing litigation. She gave them until Dec. 1 to bring the proper resolution.
A special Finance & Personnel Committee meeting has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29. The body is scheduled to go into closed session to “receive information regarding strategy and authorize litigation involving County of Pierce v. Nancy Hove, Case No. 2022CV177.”
The committee is also scheduled to vote on a resolution authorizing litigation to “enforce, preserve and protect Pierce County’s rights regarding recruitment, hiring and promotion of Sheriff’s Office deputies.”
The Pierce County Board will meet immediately after at 7 p.m. Nov. 29 to vote on the same resolution.
According to the complaint: The county’s first claim is a declaratory judgment that Hove has no constitutional authority to hire sheriff’s department personnel. “The constitution nowhere defines what powers, rights and duties shall attach or belong to the office of sheriff,” the complaint states.
The complaint lists disputes between the county and Hove as:
• Whether Hove has inherent, exclusive powers and authority under the state constitution to recruit and hire sheriff’s department personnel • Whether these alleged inherent powers are subject to county governing authority, ordinances and policies
• Whether Hove has the legal authority to recruit and hire sheriff’s department employees without input from other county departments and employees
• Whether Hove has the legal authority to recruit and hire sheriff’s department employees without complying with the Pierce County personnel policy “The county has informed Hove that she is required to comply with all requirements of the Pierce County Personnel Policy in the process of recruiting and hiring Sheriff’s Department employees,” the complaint reads.
“Notwithstanding the warnings provided by the county, Hove has expressed her intent to move forward with hiring sheriff’s department personnel without complying with the recruiting and hiring requirements of the Pierce County Personnel Policy.”
At the Nov. 7 Finance & Personnel Committee meeting, members voted to allow the refill of vacant chief deputy, patrol lieutenant and other management positions in the sheriff’s office.
Hove said she put out a letter of interest internally to see if anyone was interested in those positions. She did not formally post the job, she said.
“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.
Administrative Coordinator Jason Matthys said Nov. 8 in an email 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.
The court complaint further states that the county disagrees with Hove’s interpretation and construction of Wisconsin Constitution, Article VI, Section 4, as it pertains to the exercise of her duties and powers as sheriff.
“The manner in which Hove recruits and hires Pierce County Sheriff’s Department employees presents an ongoing controverted issue that will continue until decided with certainty by a court of competent jurisdiction,” the complaint states.
The county’s second claim for injunctive relief, which restrains a party from doing certain acts or requires a party to act in a certain way, claims the county will be irreparably harmed if Hove is not enjoined from recruiting and hiring personnel without complying with the county’s civil service requirements and personnel policies.