Commission to investigate courthouse comp time
Faced with a potential $71,000 in comp time costs for courthouse employees, county commissioners hired a wage and hour expert attorney last Tuesday to help formulate a policy.
Commissioners hired Joseph Leonoro from the Charleston law firm Steptoe and Johnson to sort out issues such as rate of pay for comp time hours and how comp time can be accrued, as well as how long employees have to use it.
Leonoro was hired on a 2-1 vote, with commissioner Jamie Walker dissenting.
Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price told the commission she was not an expert on wage and hour issues.
“My forte is criminal law,” Price explained. She did say her initial guidance would be to see how other counties handle comp time.
“This is an important issue,” said commission president David Fleming. “We need some legal guidance on how to address comp time.”
Leonoro joined the commission meeting by telephone. He asked commissioners to have elected officials who already have either a written or oral policy to relate those to him. The attorney will first work on the background report concerning how much courthouse employees are currently owed individually, and then begin working on details for each department. Leonoro said the county’s policy would have to be acceptable under both state and federal law.
Commissioners may schedule a special meeting to discuss the policy with their new attorney.
In a related matter, the commissioner continued a discussion from its last meeting about the Sheriff’s Auxiliary, and whether its members are regarded as employees, contractors or volunteers.
From an insurance standpoint, West Virginia Counties Risk Pool agent Steve Rawlings said none of the auxiliary members are insured in cases of sexual harassment or other such offense, but would be insured when driving a county vehicle because they would have obtained permission from their immediate supervisor.
In April, commissioners approved a contract with auxiliary members who are allowed to transport prisoners, mental hygiene patients and juveniles, provide security for mental hygiene patients and the courthouse. Auxiliary members are paid $8 an hour for their services.
Commissioner Martin Saffer said he would prefer that the auxiliary be disbanded until the commission finds out if it’s legal to have an auxiliary.
The commission voted to pay all auxiliary invoices through August 21, including for some activities outside the contract which were performed during the aftermath of the June 29 derecho.
“The storm was a rather exceptional scenario,” Fleming noted.
Walker said he was opposed to paying for services outside the contract.
Proposed changes to courtroom
Representatives from ZMM Architects & Engineers presented a second version of the proposed courtroom remodeling project, which will include increased security measures, technology enhancements and a return to the historical placement of the judge’s bench.
The move would make the public entrance to the courtroom near the staircase and seal off the hallway to enclose the judge’s chambers and jury room. The new elevator to the courthouse’s second floor will still be in a public hallway.
Adam Krason said the design has been reviewed by both Judge James Rowe and Judge Joseph Pomponio, as well as Circuit Clerk Connie Carr and representatives of the State Fire Marshal’s office.
Grants are available for the security and technology upgrades but applications for this grant cycle are due by September 30. The cost is estimated to be more than $400,000; however, the State Supreme Court will pay for the case work, the judge’s bench and the witness stand.
ZMM’s Jill Watkins said her company would be able to steer the commission toward other grant funding that could be available.
Renovations could be done in phases and the entire project could be complete in 60 days, Krason said.
Commissioners have more than $300,000 in their bricks and mortar fund, but have to keep an eye on courthouse costs because of the closing of the Durbin Magistrate’s office and renovations that may have to take place in the basement courtroom.
In other business, commissioners:
•reappointed members of the Farmland Protection Board, contingent upon their acceptance of the positions. A few members responded Tuesday evening to telephone calls. No one responded to an advertisement asking for people interested in a seat on the Farmland Protection Board, including sitting members.
•approved budget revisions.
•heard a report from Robert Tooze, Director of Pocahontas County Community Corrections.
•did not discuss a federal lawsuit filed against several county officials by former commissioner Norman Alderman. Alderman alleges false arrest and is asking for $7 million. None of the named defendants have been served because the federal judge assigned to the case has not ruled on Alderman’s motion to proceed as a pauper, whereby he could have service of process and filing fees waived. A spokesperson at the Federal Courthouse in Elkins did not know when the judge might rule on that motion.
The commission meets again in regular session Tuesday, September 4, at 8:30 a.m.