County commissioners vote to hire labor attorney
Lawyer to be hired to investigate "a hostile work environment"
June 09, 2011OSSIPEE— County commissioners voted June 2 to hire a labor attorney but haven't released any details about what prompted the decision.
The move, suggested by Chairman David Sorenson, is meant to hire an attorney specifically skilled in matters of employment law. Sorenson's reason for making the motion at the June 2 commissioner's meeting, he said, is to investigate "a hostile work environment" and he added, "I can't go into any details because it is being investigated now. I think we need to have an attorney give us some guidance and help investigate the situation to clarify it…We have a harassment policy and every employee has the right to work in an environment free of harassment…I feel we need to have an attorney give us some guidance as to a particular situation that has come about that I really can't talk about."
The county has liability insurance coverage through Primex and Chip Albee said they have been called on in the past to do retraining, counseling, talk to the different parties involved and try to mitigate situations that might lead to lawsuits. Sorenson said Primex acts in the interest of protecting Carroll County government and its commissioners and will do so if the county is sued. However, Sorenson said, if the commissioners choose to sue someone, they need this labor attorney.
Before all three commissioners voted in favor of the idea, Commissioner Asha Kenney asked who would be hired and at what cost. Sorenson said he is working with New Hampshire Association of Counties to get recommendations of attorneys who specialize in this field of law.
In another mysterious motion, Sorenson asked the commissioners to clarify a previously adopted policy regarding personnel records. His motion stated that with the exception of the human resources director, no one is to view the personnel files of an employee without prior approval and vote of the commissioners. Additionally, he said once a person is hired, their personnel records are private and are only viewed if there is a valid reason to, including disciplinary issues.
A reporter asked if there was a problem with someone going into the personnel files and if that prompted Sorenson's motion. Sorenson said he could not go into the specific details.
Kenney said she didn't see the need to pass this motion since there was already a policy in place. Sorenson said the update is meant to clarify the current policy. In the end, the motion passed with Sorenson and Commissioner Dorothy Solomon voting in favor. Kenney did not vote against the motion but chose instead to just refrain from voting on it at all.
Commissioners continue to struggle to get their meeting minutes completed, approved and, if allowable, available to the public in a timely manner.
At issue at the June 2 meeting was a backlog of non-public minutes, some dating back to January 5 that haven't been approved by commissioners. Commissioners are allowed to go into non-public sessions for very specific reasons including discussion of personnel issues such as hiring, firing, or disciplining an employee, discussion legal matters, and matters which, if discussed in public, likely "would adversely affect the reputation of any person, other than a member of the body or agency itself."
Minutes of those non-public sessions must be made available to the public in 72 hours unless the commissioners vote to seal those minutes.
The county's human resource director, Robin Reade, takes minutes of the non-public sessions and said June 2 that since the first of the year, all minutes of non-public sessions have been voted sealed during the non-public sessions. After Reade takes the minutes, they are forwarded to Kenney, the commission's clerk. Kenney is then charged with reviewing the minutes and recommending them for approval. Sorenson said, as an added note, the non-public minutes are not supposed to leave the county administration building.
In an attempt to clear up the backlog of unapproved minutes, Kenney made a motion to approve the January 5 minutes that neither of the other commissioner's had read. When asked if she had copies for the other commissioners, she responded that she did not and said, "but I read it so that's good." The commissioners decided not to approve those.
Kenney was asked to produce any other non-public minutes she had so they could get approved and was able to pull a couple of sets, March 16 and April 14, from her briefcase and those were approved, leaving only the January 5 and March 23 non-public minutes awaiting approval at a future meeting. When asked how the public knows if the minutes are sealed or not since the sealing happens in non-public, Kenney replied that if the commissioners forget to seal them, she will make them public. Albee suggested that the commissioners reconvene into public session after the non-public sessions to announce whether or not the minutes are sealed.
Even though minutes are sealed at the time of the meeting that does not mean they all remain sealed indefinitely. The commissioners have been reviewing non-public minutes twice a year. If the subject matter of the minutes has been resolved and there are no other mitigating circumstances to prevent their release, the minutes are made available to the public. This is expected to happen sometime this month.