2017-06-15 / Front Page

Tensions surge in county employee salary debate

Board of Comissioners retracts contentious handbook change
By Kelly Krager
Editor • kkrager@mihomepaper.com • 989-269-9918

HURON COUNTY - Fallout from the county’s wage-study based method of determining employee salaries has department heads frustrated and the county’s personnel committee considering drastic changes.

The debate has been intensified by upcoming contract negotiations for seven unions that represent groups of county employees, five of which are for law enforcement.

During the Meeting of the Whole of the Huron County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, Personnel Committee Chairman Dave Peruski announced his plan to resign the position in an attempt to repair the rift between the committee and some county employees, especially those in the Sheriff’s Office. He added he did not want to be involved in the upcoming union negotiations.

“My presence there would have a negative impact on the negotiations. Five of the seven contracts to be negotiated are with police-based unions. I hope the next personnel committee chairman will be welcomed by the sheriff’s department with an open mind and that we can move on and get past this strife,” he said.

Peruski said his decisions as personnel committee chairman have unintentionally created animosity, and the committee would better serve the county’s employees if he bowed out.

“It’s like treating cancer. You try treating everything else first, then you do surgery. It’s time for surgery,” he said.

Committee member Ron Wruble also indicated he would resign, while vicechair John Bodis urged both to remain due to the vast knowledge and experience they have with employee policy and labor negotiations.

“Stay and do your job. If you don’t like it, next year, get on another committee. I don’t think quitting is the answer,” he said.

Wruble said he’s not quitting, but instead opening the position for another board member who may be able to see other solutions to employee issues.

Peruski then urged the board to dissolve the three-member personnel committee and temporarily create a seven-member committee that includes all commissioners, at least until the union negotiations are completed. That way, he can provide his expertise, but he won’t be the person responsible for approving or rejecting employee requests.

“I don’t want to be the lightning rod that deep-sixes the negotiations,” he said.

Much of the tension Peruski seeks to ease has roots in how the county determines salaries, by the use of job analysis questionnaires (JAQ). Each employee is assigned a salary scale, and raises are given at predetermined intervals based on length of employment.

The system has the potential to create scenarios were a longtime employee in one department is promoted to another department, receiving a higher grade but less pay because they start over on the seniority scale. Seeing this issue as a deterrent for people seeking promotions, commissioners added a clause to the employee handbook to ensure a promotion does not result in a wage reduction.

In February, commissioners expanded the policy to guarantee a supervisor will not make less than someone he or she supervises. Since then a handful of employees have received salary increases, since their job duties include at least some supervision.

The action created angst almost immediately, as a court employee received a raise that put her salary above others who are considered to be on an equal level within their department, and all three county judges asked the board to reconsider the motion.

On Tuesday, commissioners voted 6-1 to strike the policy from the employee handbook, with Wruble casting the dissenting vote.

Sheriff Kelly J. Hanson has been vocal in his criticism of the stricken policy and other actions of the personnel committee. See the related story on Page 1 for more.

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