fbpx

COMMISSIONERS SCOLD HR DIRECTOR IN PUBLIC AIRING OF “DIRTY LAUNDRY”

Josephine County Commissioners Meetings

June 6th, 2023 Public HR Director Hearing

Dirty laundry was kicked around at an odd little meeting of the Josephine County Commissioners Tuesday, June 6. The meeting was convened, “to consider the dismissal or disciplining or hear complaints or charges brought against a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent.” That individual agent turned out to be the Human Resources Director who also oversees Risk Management, JJ Scofield. He said he’s been with the county since 2014. Apparently, he consented to get hung out to dry in an open meeting to show the public what county department heads are up against since the election of Commissioner John West. These kinds of meetings are usually held behind closed doors during an executive session.

It wasn’t until the last few minutes of the hour-long dressing down that the purpose of the meeting was finally revealed. Commissioner Dan DeYoung, with West glaring at him, said the HR Director needs to be able to come to Commissioners “and not get our nose out of joint.” He was referring to West, whose line of questioning indicated Scofield had upset him.

“Have you seen the duties of the HR Director?…Is there any area in there that tells you that you’re to be concerned or butt into the Commissioners’ business or any other department business of their own personal, managing their own department. I mean, excluding employees?” asked West near the end of the meeting.

Scofield replied with an example of how he’s the one who usually ends up expressing concerns of the employees to the Board.

“So, last Tuesday the Board had meetings about the 4H extension as your role as.. (Herman interrupts saying ‘we’re the Board’) Yes, the board of that agency. I didn’t’ attend that meeting. It wasn’t anything associated with HR so I didn’t even attend it. Someone told me that there may have been a mistake as it relates to noticing. So again this isn’t strictly an HR thing but I was concerned that based upon that error we had some litigation risk. So I went down to Wally (Legal Counsel Wally Hicks) and I went down to Finance and I said I’m concerned we have some litigation risk and the best way to mitigate that is to re-notice the meeting, redo it. So I think it’s not something HR, but it’s a Risk Management issue because a lot of people make decisions and there are potential litigation risks associated with it. I think part of my job, whether I have Risk Management or not, is to build relationships with all departments, including the Board of Commissioners. See what’s going on and if there is some potential litigation risk, again it’s not my job to run any of the departments, but it’s my job to inform them, ‘hey there is some potential risk and here’s some options.’ It’s their job to choose which option is best and it’s your job to choose what’s best. I don’t tell the board ever, I don’t dictate to the board what your job is. You dictate to me. But I give you options. Then you can pick them. You can choose to ignore my advice whenever you want. That’s within your purview, but my job is to try to figure out what’s going on in all the county in order to look at it through the lens of could we get sued in anything we do.”

West shuffled his notes and asked, “Have you made comments to any department heads about myself or Commissioner Baertschiger (Commission Chair Herman Baertschiger)?”

Scofield asked for more information.

West says, “Uhhh, any comments whether you agree, disagree, I don’t like the Commissioners, uhhh, how they handle business or go about business.”

Scofield replied that of course, he has his own opinions but, “What I will say is you’ll never hear me talking to the press, anything bad about the Board, whether I agree with your decisions or don’t agree. Some of your decisions I’ve not been huge support of. Some I think are amazing. Some I don’t agree with. You’re never going to hear me talking to the press saying the Board did a bad job. I always support the Board’s decision publicly whether I personally agree with them or not cause that’s my job. I don’t set policy. I just execute what you guys say.”

West continues his interrogation, “Have you expressed, or made comments to department heads about potential IT director applicants that your feeling is that they’re too close to any of the commissioners?”

Scofield said he didn’t use that phrase. West indicated he was done with that line of questioning.

When Baertschiger opened the inquisition, he had a list of what he perceived as complaints about the HR Director. It was as if he came prepared to let Scofield know he had dirt on him before they got into the meat of the discussion. He accused Scofield of taking a “bump” in his salary when he took over Risk Management early in his career with the county, then not giving back that “bump” when the county hired someone to do Risk Management. Scofield said he supervises Risk Management and sees that “things get done,” and that the number of employees in the county has jumped from 280 to more than 400 since he was hired in 2014. Scofield said he would be happy to conduct a survey to find out if his salary is over what other people in his position make. Baertschiger said this isn’t a good time to do that because of inflation. This line of questioning persisted in detail until it was exhausted. Then Baertschiger came up with another complaint.  

“When we were looking at recruiting a new Emergency Manager Director you stated to me that we had to have somebody that had a lot of experience in that department. Is that correct?” asked Baertschiger. Scofield said yes. “OK…then I asked you what experience did Ms Ring have when we hired her and you said she had quite a bit of experience. Is that not correct?” Again Scofield says yes. “And when we pulled her personnel file, what did we discover?” asked Baertschiger.

“Well what I showed you was that her last position before she worked for the county was the county. She worked for the county as the assistant emergency director so she had experience doing that. She worked for a parks district and was assigned emergency management duties as part of that,” replied Scofield.

“But she didn’t have a tremendous amount of experience as Emergency Management before we hired her in Josephine County,” said Baertschiger.

“I think that’s a matter of opinion. It wasn’t her primary duty I think that’s clear, but she wasn’t hired as the Emergency Manager. She was hired as the Assistant Emergency Manager, and the Board of Commissioners is actually who hired her,” said Scofield.

“Right, but you told me she had a lot of experience which she didn’t,” said Baertschiger. 

“Well, she worked for us as Assistant Emergency Manager for about four years,” said Scofield.

Baertschiger continued with his “complaints,” alleging Scofield withheld information from Commissioners when he handed them applicant packets for the IT position. Baertschiger said he didn’t get a veteran’s paperwork proving he was in the service. Scofield said he has a standardized process for putting together applicant packets and he doesn’t usually include extraneous paperwork unless a Commissioner requests it.

“You requested it and I said I would be happy to comply. So I did,” said Scofield.

“But if I wouldn’t of requested it I wouldn’t of had the opportunity to view something that somebody submitted that might substantiate their background. A lot of people are very proud of their DD 214s (veteran’s discharge papers),” said Baertschiger.

“I do recognize that. The reason that it is provided is because it is required in order to get veterans’ preference. So HR’s job is to oversee the recruitment process and ensure that it follows the legal requirements and when someone wants veteran preference, that initiates a standardized process and in order to get that they have to show proof and that proof is the DD 214. So they submit it and quite often they submit it because we specifically reach out. So they check a box that says, ‘yes I’m a vet’ then we will reach out and say please provide proof and that proof is the DD 214,” said Scofield.

The next “complaint” Baertschiger had was about signing off on time sheets. Finance Director Sandy Novak told Scofield she didn’t want to be the one signing off on time sheets filed by Commissioners’ staff because she had no way to monitor them to see if they actually put in the time they said they did. Scofield explained in some detail the timesheet signing process and how there are multiple eyes on the system. Either satisfied or confused by Scofield’s answers, Baertschiger moved on to the Airport Director. The Risk Manager in Scofield’s office was put in as temporary Airport Director when the former one left. He decided he liked that position so was approved as the new Airport Director. Baertschiger accused Scofield of asking the Airport Director about an insurance matter without the Board’s permission. Scofield said, “I do remember you being in my office and saying you understood it. I didn’t specifically request it (from the Board).”

DeYoung took Scofield to task for signing off on the former Airport Manager’s claim that he left for medical reasons. DeYoung said, “The Airport Director confided in me saying he was going to leave well before the health problems, so I think the health problems manifested after they had given their resignation, so  I can’t say we can enter that into the record that they left because of health reasons…. he was very frustrated with the situation that he was put in and that it wasn’t going to get any better so therefore at a young age he was going to pursue something else.”

Baertschiger didn’t want to get into the details of the Airport Director’s reasons for leaving but DeYoung continued addressing Scofield, “You entered it in the record that he left because of health conditions and that isn’t what I heard.”

DeYoung went back to Scofield’s salary, saying he should have taken a reduction in pay when the Risk Manager was hired. Scofield tried to explain that even though he wasn’t directly doing Risk Management he still managed the Risk Manager in addition to more staff. He also pointed out that the number of employees he deals with as Human Resources director has grown from 280 to around 470 since 2014 when he began working for the county. West got into the fray with endless questioning about Scofield’s pay bump and whether or not he deserved to keep it after hiring the Risk Manager. Then West circled back to the timesheet discussion. Scofield explained again the process for signing off on time sheets and how protocols change as the Board changes after elections.

“In your opinion, do you work at the pleasure of the Commissioners or do the Commissioners work at the pleasure of you?” asked West.

“Absolutely (at the pleasure of the Board)…you work at the pleasure of the populace,” said Scofield.

“Ok. So a couple of Mondays ago is there a reason why you accused me in our office of wasting legal money and time on a new ordinance on the right-of-ways?” asked West.

“I don’t believe that I said that. That you wasted time and money. What I discussed with you was there was some concern, voiced by some department heads. I hadn’t known whether you had heard that concern and I wanted to give you some information so you could make the best decision that you could,” said Scofield.

“Well, it wasn’t even a question that had come up. You brought it up on your own. You was standing right there when I walked in and your exact words was that you felt that I was wasting legal’s money and time on a right-a-way ordinance that I had not got approval by the Board do, which I said you’re wrong, I said and you said, your words was that the department heads were upset over it because they had not been informed when we had met in a meeting a couple of months prior to that. The commissioners knew about it and I’m still trying to figure out what business is it of the HR Director to stick their nose into that business,” said West.

“So that particular one, I don’t know that it is specifically an HR issue. I had heard employees say they were frustrated but they didn’t feel comfortable enough to tell you so I thought it would be helpful to you if you had that information. And clearly I didn’t do a great job of articulating what I was attempting to convey because it wasn’t my intention to say you’re wasting anyone’s time. I even remember saying that the ordinance itself had a lot of value. I just wanted you to be aware of some concerns that the department heads have had so that you could address them and end up with a better product at the end. And ultimately it appears I didn’t do a very good job of articulating that and I’ll vouch for that,” said Scofield.

“Ok, uhhh, have you had any contact with the Emergency Manager at Jackson County or the County Manager having to do with the IT slash Emergency Manager position?” asked West.

Scofield replied, “The only people I’ve ever contacted in Jackson County in my entire career, I’ve talked to the HR Director once or twice when he was first hired, and I’ve talked to their ADA coordinator maybe two years ago when we created our position, and I think I’ve been in the same room once or twice of their Emergency Manager during COVID. Other than that I’ve never spoken to Dan Jordan. If their Emergency Manager came in today I wouldn’t know what she looked like. I know her last name is Powers cause she was in the paper the other day but I’ve never spoken to her.”

After the questioning, DeYoung had roundabout praise for Scofield.

“I’ve worked with JJ for six years. Because in the city we didn’t tangle much with HR whereas in the count you’re imersed in HR. It’s a bigger organization and more hands-on as a county commissioner. Where, as a city counselor you really have zero influence on employees and here we are involved so there’s a big difference for us there. So I don’t have much HR experience or HR personnel coming into this job but I kept my eyes and ears open and tried to learn about the HR position as much as possible and when I got done, at the end of the day, there was probably three or four positions in this organization that I don’t have anything to do with, attorneys and JJ’s another one. It’s just very complicated and it’s a very touchy subject as we are seeing today. It’s probably the most touchy and controversial subjects in the whole organization because it’s probably one of the most vulnerable if you make a mistake. So in the years when there’s been some questions that I’ve had when I thought gee that isn’t the right way to do it you’ve been very straightforward in explaining it to me. I didn’t have a whole bunch of confidence in you at the very beginning and that wasn’t because you weren’t doing your job it was because I didn’t understand your job. And once I understood your job and watched you in action on various hirings and firings and the union I thought you done a very good job. So we got some things here, some issues brought up by Commissioners and I hope we can work through those and retain you.”

Baertschiger’s comment to Scofield was, “I think hopefully you have a better understanding of that the Commissioner’s job is to run this county.”

“Absolutely,” replied Scofield.

“And we do not have a county administrator that means we’re the county administrator…we’re not like Jackson County. We don’t have half a million dollar county administrator,” said Baertschiger. “He makes 14 times more than the average citizen in Jackson County. So we have, sometimes we don’t have time to negotiate our decisions. We simply don’t have time. And our decisions are our decisions. I don’t want to have to do a two-paragraph explanation of what I’m doing cause I simply don’t have the time to do that and I certainly don’t like the Commissioners’ office being micro-managed. We’re that link to the citizens. One thing I’ve found in politics that I’ve never settled to is when an elected official seems to represent themselves, not their constituents. There’s times that I’ve had to represent my constituents even though it was really contrary to what I felt but I’ve always looked at myself as only one constituent. So it’s the majority of constituents. I’ve always said to be a good elected official you havta listen. You havta listen. So, some of this stuff is disturbing. I don’t know what degree. I don’t know if it helps us moving forward. In your opinion on that does it help us to move forward?

“Well, I’ve had a bunch of Commissioners and they communicate differently. What I have ascertained from today is what I have effectively worked with other Commissioners is not working, at least with two of you, and I’m happy to accommodate whatever meets you guy’s need. And if that means having a few more meetings to say is this what you would like I’m happy to do that. Again my job is to protect the county from liability and make sure that we can execute what you guys want done,” said Scofield.

“Yeah, it’s probably not advantageous for a working relationship is there’s, umm, I know everybody does have opinions and I respect that. However, it’s their efforts to undermine the will of the Commissioners’ office, and I’m not making any allegations, that probably doesn’t work. This is a tough job anyways. We make hard decisions. Sometimes you look out there and your Constituents are evenly split or somewhat and we make the decision that’s gonna be wrong in somebody’s eyes (chuckle chuckle) okay? It could be 40 percent or 35 percent say we’re wrong and 55 percent say we’re right or we may get it wrong and it’s the other way around. So our decisions we make, we hope, that publicly our directors and the people that work for us can somewhat support. Because if they don’t it makes our job very contentious. Very difficult. And in this business you’re never gonna get to perfection,” said Baertschiger.

Baertschiger asked Hicks, who was not at the table but sitting in the room if the Board should put Scofield on probation or put out a memorandum of understanding that Scofield will meet with them every month for a while so they could see evidence Scofield was working on their concerns. Hicks looked perplexed and said he would look into it. Baertschiger went on with the possibility of an agreement that Board members will meet with Scofield once a month for possibly six months, or maybe two months. Scofield was in agreement with that.

West held back, saying “You know I’ve only been here six months so you guys been here a lot longer than I have but, umm, it bothers me, it bothers me when 22 thousand citizens hire me to come in to do a  job and then someone decides that they know best over me and I’m not sayin’ I don’t make mistakes and I don’t know it all, but stuff that they should stay in their own lane it bothers me and then when I have department heads come to me…I don’t know what the answer is or how we fix some of that. I don’t know if you don’t have enough to do in your office or if you have an agenda or not an agenda but, uhhh, I’ll go along with what the Board wants to do on this…umm, but I don’t have much room at the end of my rope. I’ve never had an employee come to me a couple of different times as you have and talked to me and tell me I’m wrong and that I don’t know what I’m talking about and so you know I, I, I…and what I would like to see in this county is that we work better as a team instead of.…I feel like there’s between, umm, and I can only say what I’m hearin’ from department heads but you know I want to git us back on the right path and that means that we can do that in this format you’re talking about I’m fine with that but if not I would rather go in a different direction.”

Baertschiger added, “So, I’m taking a lot of things into consideration. I’m taking into consideration is looking at we just went through several recruitments for several department heads. That’s not easy. The talent out there may not be what you think it is. We are a small county. A lot of counties, you go and the Commissioners almost know everybody by name that works for the county. And so it’s a little different. But I will also say that we have to make it adamantly clear that the Board of County Commissioners is the deciding authority on all these policies and issues. It’s okay to vent your opinion but I don’t know if it’s okay to try to build coalitions and I’m not alluding that anybody’s doing that but there’s possibilities that that could go on. I don’t think that’s helpful. This is a tough job. Especially when you’re out of money. We have to make tough decisions. So with that, if you will agree to a memorandum of understanding that we have a meeting once a month for a few months to make sure we’re headed on the right track I would appreciate it.”

“You know I think that would be helpful. Clearly, I’m not meeting your needs as to how I communicate and I apologize for giving the impression I’m trying to tell you how to do your job cause that isn’t my intention at all. I think my job is to support the board and if you felt that undermined I apologize. My objective is to help you make the best decision you can. And I’ve told multiple people that my job isn’t to make policy, it’s to execute policy,” said Scofield.

Herman asked the person taking notes on the meeting to send out reminders that they need to have some kind of meeting with HR once a month for the next couple of months.

“I just want to make sure everybody’s on the same page and we’re all headed in the right direction. I’m very pleased with all the department heads going through this budget process, we all understand the situation in Josephine County and I made a statement the other day that I said with everything that’s going on with all the grants and everything as long as they keep coming and everything I feel very comfortable with all the departments in Josephine county with the exception of the sheriff’s office. Is it perfect? No. would we like a little more help? Yes. But given the facts of what we’re dealing with and all the other moving parts with inflation and all this other stuff I’m actually pretty happy and pretty pleased with everybody. I really am. I mean it’s not easy you know. And we’re kind of moving off subject so anyways. With that any last thoughts?” said Baertschiger.

DeYoung seemed to realize that those present were hanging the county’s dirty laundry out for everyone to see and reminded them “we’re in open session” and ended his thoughts by saying he was told “not to talk too much.”

West ended the session with guffaws at that.