SHERIFF DOMENIC RICHARDI presented a report on dispatch activities to Carroll County Commissioners at their Jan. 16 meeting. Richardi told commissioners either he or his Chief Deputy Rich Young will be attending the weekly commission meetings to give a report. (Courtesy photo: Frame from video of Jan. 16 meeting available on www.governmentoversite.com.) (click for larger version)
January 24, 2013OSSIPEE — Though not clear if there has been a problem or if he is just trying to be proactive, County Commissioner David Babson persuaded his fellow commissioners to vote to notice all county employees that taping conversations is illegal. Babson said he is concerned about "people carrying around cell phones that can record telephone conversations without the other person knowing. Babson said it is illegal to do this but employees might not be aware that it is.
Babson has come prepared with a list to the first few weekly meetings since being sworn in as county commissioner earlier this month. His Jan. 16 list included the taping conversations concern and another issue that has been brought up nearly weekly for the past year – the commissioner's unwillingness to release grievance investigation results.
That issue that has been argued extensively in this newspaper and in other media outlets and by the public attending the weekly commissioner's meeting with no results. Last year the former county human resource director filed a complaint about Commissioner Asha Kenney's conduct. Later in the year came a 13-page harassment complaint from the county nursing home's social worker naming two of the commissioners and a long list of nursing home employees at fault. Later last summer a jail employee filed a complaint against two of the commissioners, charging that he was unfairly demoted. Then towards the end of the year, the jail captain filed a complaint against the board of commissioners, charging them with unfairly targeting some jail employees by dismissing decisions made by the jail superintendent. In all four complaints filed last year, the complainant went public. Three of the complaint investigations have been resolved while the jail captain's complaint is still under investigation. Of the three that have been completed, the public has been given no information except the bill for the thousands of dollars – estimated at over $50,000 – that commissioners have shelled out in taxpayer funds for the legal fees for the investigations.
And that isn't right, argued Babson, because the taxpayers have a right to know what they paid for. Commissioner David Sorensen and Kenney voted against releasing any of the investigation findings, stating the county's legal counsel has advised against it.
"I don't believe attorney-client privilege holds any water," said Babson. If Kenney had hired her own attorney on her own behalf to defend herself against the claims made against her, Babson said that would understandably be covered under attorney-client privilege. But, he argued, the state's right-to-know statute does not protect elected officials and therefore Kenney shouldn't be able to hide under the cloak of that law.
Babson said he wants the investigation records released once and for all because "It's time we move forward and let people know who has or hasn't done the job and who is or who is not doing their job," said Babson.
"If you set any goal other than perfection, you'll get something less than perfection. We can do without agency," Mountain View Community Administrator Howie Chandler told county commissioners at their Jan. 16 meeting. Chandler said one of the county nursing home's goals is to eliminate the use of outside agency staff.
The home has relied heavily in the past on an outside agency that provides nurses to fill absences at a rate of $40 to $50 per hour for each nurse.
Chandler said the problem with hiring agency staff is "When you hire outside people at outrageous rates you not only don't get more, you don't get better. You get worse and you create a moral problem." Chandler gave the example of a Mountain View LNA being paid $10 per hour and having to train an agency LNA knowing the agency is getting four to five times their salary for providing this staff person.
"It must have been four or five or six years ago and we were paying $750,000 (annually) for agency. Then it went down to $306,000 and members of the delegation felt that was too high. This year you've budgeted $250,000. I'd say you are doing an excellent job," said Commissioner David Babson, who also remarked that Chandler's goal to stop using agency staff altogether is a good goal but has his doubts it is achievable.
Chandler said that with the help of nursing director Rebecca Mason work is being done to find creative ways to staff the nursing home without the high cost of agency staff, including offering incentives and rewards to existing employees who fill the vacant shifts. Chandler said adding additional full-time positions should also be considered to avoid having to fill the schedule with higher priced overtime or per-diem staff.
In an effort to open the lines of communication between the sheriff's department and the county commissioners, Sheriff Domenic Richardi told commissioners either he or his Chief Deputy Rich Young will be attending the weekly commission meetings to give a report. At the Jan. 16 meeting, Richardi presented commissioners with a weekly activity log detailing calls handled by the county's dispatch center and sheriff's deputies.
During the Jan. 6 through Jan 12 time period, sheriff's deputies handled 122 calls for service. Those calls include deputies serving civil paperwork 50 times and a variety of other calls such as traffic stops, assisting other police agencies, and transporting inmates. The dispatch center took 991 calls during the same time period and Richardi presented a list, including a breakdown of the 70 different types of calls dispatchers took. Call types include 53 medical emergencies, 13 animal complaints, and 86 administrative calls. The sheriff's department log presented to the commissioners is a public record and a copy can be requested from the sheriff's department for anyone interested in reading the two-page statistics.
Commissioners learned that dispatchers have a short list of elderly folks who receive a Project Good Morning check each morning. Through this program, elderly residents can sign up to receive a call each morning from dispatchers who will to check on them. Richardi explained that if the resident doesn't answer the phone, a deputy will be sent out to check on them. He added that there is plenty of room for more people on the daily call list. Anyone interested in signing up for the daily check-in can call the sheriff's department at 539-2284 to sign up.
Is it time for Carroll County Government to have a county administrator as all other New Hampshire counties do? The idea has been floated around at full and subcommittee meetings of the county delegation and might work its way into their proposed 2013 budget. Sorensen asked his fellow commissioners for their opinion on the idea at the Jan. 16 meeting. The average cost of that position could add $130,000 to $150,000 plus another 48 percent of their salary in benefits to the annual county budget, he said.
Babson said at this point he does not support the idea. He said the commissioners are not professionals but just do the best they can, and have done an admirable job in the past few years. Adding a county administrator, he said, takes control over the county operations away from the commissioners and the delegation. He said it also politicizes the whole operation on the county complex. "Until I see some gross mistakes made in this county I would oppose it," he said. Sorensen said having an administrator just adds another layer of bureaucracy.
Kenney, who ran for office in 2010 on the main platform of "cutting the county budget", supports hiring a county administrator. When her fellow commissioners pressed for her reasons why she supports it she said, "There are a lot of issues going on and I think it is a first step in running the county in a professional way. I think the county needs a county administrator. I have to do some research." Babson pushed her to answer whether the county administrator could save enough to pay for themselves on an annual basis, year after year. "Can save us enough money on an annual basis to justify a $200,000 expenditure?" Babson asked. To which Kenney responded, "There are too many issues going on. She can help us read contracts. She can advise with certain issues. She can also go through all this budgeting. She can make recommendations. She can surely save some money for the county too. I think she will oversee it (the budget), on how to save money and make recommendations."
Sorensen is in favor of the delegation's idea to fund a performance evaluation that will examine the operation and efficiency of all county-run departments and make recommendations. He supports having that study done first and it may or may not determine whether a county administrator is recommended.