News

Attorney: Update employee handbook on drug testing, social media

The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors met Monday to begin planning for a revision to the county’s employee handbook as well as a possible new comprehensive plan. The board also heard about Red-Blue workshops held in the area designed to help people overcome their political differences.

Handbook

Attorney Gayla Harrison, of Harrison, Moreland, Webber, Simplot and Maxwell, P.C. spoke with the board about doing a new and updated version of the county’s employee handbook. The Ottumwa-based law firm has experience with this type of work and helping keep organizational policies consistent with appropriate legal and regulatory requirements.

The county’s employee handbook hasn’t been revised since July 2012 and the board has begun the process of planning a major revision. Harrison called out social media and drug-test policy as specific areas for focus in a revised handbook.

“When it comes to things like social media and electronic things, there have been big changes over the last five or 10 years. You have reference to a drug-testing policy without having an actual policy. In my mind, having a public employer with a drug-testing policy that isn’t defined is a dangerous proposition,” said Harrison.

The board clarified that certain departments, depending on their work, do in fact use a drug-screening policy. The Secondary Road Department for example, where employees are often operating heavy equipment, require testing. Whether a more uniform policy better suits the county or if continuing with role-targeted department testing is more suitable remains a question as the supervisors begin to conceptualize the county’s employment policy needs.

Better Angels

Area residents Joe and Julie Mandarino presented to the board on the Better Angels “Red-Blue” workshops for which they are trained to facilitate. The workshops aim to help people lose the toxic and hateful feeling that so many are afflicted with when discussing politics in recent years.

The couple was invited to speak after Supervisor Dee Sandquist recently took the workshop and realized that a lot of people could benefit from it. Joe is a former co-owner of Chappell Studios/MarathonFoto, and Julie is a retired psychology professor who taught at Iowa Wesleyan, specializing in marriage and relationship counseling.

“We’ve been trained by an organization called Better Angels, which moderates conversations between Democrats and Republicans. And every time I say that everybody’s eyebrows go up, because Democrats and Republicans aren’t having conversations in general. And, what they are having is anything but a conversation,” said Mandarino.

Mobile-Crisis initiative

Sandy Stever, the county’s Mental Health Administrator, updated the board on progress implementing the Mobile-Crisis initiative which provides law enforcement immediate 24 hour access to on-scene mental health evaluations. The Governance Board for Mental Health approved the Mobile-Crisis program which is now in the planning stage.

The board gave the go-ahead to the county attorney’s office to seek a part-time attorney to assist with property assessment disputes and then presumably work part-time for another area attorney. The county has been using an outside attorney for this purpose, but money could be saved by hiring an attorney on a part-time basis. The salary range mentioned is $28,000 to $40,000 for about 20 hours a week depending on experience.

The board approved two abatements in the city of Batavia. Taxes were abated for 504 4th St. in Batavia of $567 and for 105 Collins St. which was taken over last year and sold the very next day. The abatement is for $3,489, and the new owners will be responsible for $44 of that amount.

Recently installed supervisor Daryn Hamilton was appointed to the SEMCO tri-county landfill board. The supervisors also approved the appointment of Fairfield Arts & Convention Center board members Tammy Jones and Robert Weigert to the Farm Show committee for the coming year.