No personnel policies for elected county officials

Monday, August 4, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ The Cape Girardeau County Commission, from left, Jay Purcell, Gerald Jones and Larry Bock, discussed Purcell's motion on Monday to arrange a training session on the Missouri Sunshine Law. The motion died for lack of a second.

For nearly 20 years, Cape Girardeau County's recorder of deeds, Janet Robert, hesitated to take a vacation. She said she couldn't find a state law that explained how much, if any, time off was appropriate for elected county officials. Robert, now in her 31st year on the job, said she has in recent years used her best judgment. More likely than not, she's at her office in the county administration building.

While county employees must fill out time sheets that reflect hours worked, sick days, vacation days and absences — standards used in private companies — elected county officials have no such requirements.

The state only requires attendance for 20 hours of annual training, or elected county officials risk losing $2,000 of their yearly pay. The state does not make county commissioners meet any office hour requirements — an issue in recent elections.

Though commissioners in Cape Girardeau, Scott and Bollinger counties do not follow standard business hours at their respective county offices, most can be reached by phone or e-mail.

Some subsections of state law detail duties and the time of year when reports must be filed or indicate penalties, if for example, those reports are not filed or records are not properly kept.

Given current salaries of elected officials, it's conceivable that an officeholder wouldn't have to spend a full minute at his or her county desk during a four-year term and still collect full pay, which for a presiding commissioner could range from more than $90,000 to $250,000, depending on the county's class. If official work continues to be properly done, the state has no recourse. In 1951, a quo warranto legal action was filed against the Bates County collector, claiming he wasn't doing his job, because he was also working a full-time job at an oil company. The collector proved to Missouri's Supreme Court, his duties were fulfilled, even though he did not keep traditional office hours.

The absence of personnel guidelines came to light after Cape Girardeau County commissioners found they did not have disciplinary power over the county's other elected officials, after confronting the county auditor for violating interoffice policies.

The auditor went on a 76-day leave starting April 17, citing medical problems.

Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones has announced he will lobby for a disciplinary board to be added to the county salary commission, which oversees pay for elected county officials.

For the most part, Cape Girardeau County's elected officials can be found at work. Assessor Jerry Reynolds has a reputation as an early bird, arriving at the county administration building at 7:30 a.m. The county's treasurer, Roger Hudson, said he got used to not having vacations during his 18-year career in the export business, because the multimillion-dollar operation required daily attention.

At times, elected officials work despite debilitating health issues. Hudson underwent double knee surgery in December, 2005. He kept in touch with deputy treasurer Cheryl Scheffer. But when she developed a severe case of the flu and was unable to work for two days in January, Hudson, using a walker, came into the office.

In 2007, Cape Girardeau County Collector Diane Diebold was out of the office recovering from back surgery. Unable to drive for weeks, she used the phone to keep in touch and had one of her office's deputies bring papers to her home when they needed to be signed.

Officeholders who supervise multiple locations, such as Diebold and County Clerk Kara Clark, travel between Jackson and Cape Girardeau as well as use phone or e-mail to keep in touch with those they supervise.

"In my office, everyone's accountable and that includes me," Clark said. "I can't speak for other offices or other officeholders."

In May, as two of Jones' grandsons lay critically ill in St. Louis, the commissioner responded to calls on his county cell phone and used it to keep current with county business.

335-6611, extension 127

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