Franklin County workers are afraid to speak out about problems because they fear they could be fired, Collector of Revenue Linda Emmons said Monday.
But First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker said the commission maintains an open-door policy for employee concerns.
One possible way to address the problems is for the county commission to meet with employees and let them speak their minds without fear of repercussions, Emmons said.
Brinker said such a meeting is not being considered because the commissioners already understand the employees’ concerns. He added that the commissioners are striving toward a resolution and are sympathetic to the cause.
In recent weeks, the Franklin County Commission has been hammered by negative reports of low worker morale.
Ongoing problems cause the public to lose confidence in the county government, Emmons said. For instance, she said she recently was approached by citizens who are concerned about some of the problems that have been going on in the county.
Brinker said he is focused on fulfilling his duties as a commissioner and making sure he upholds his fiduciary responsibilities.
Moreover, it appears employees have a lack of trust for the county commission when it comes to the budget, Emmons said.
“All we hear is that we’re broke,” Emmons said.
But then employees are hurt when some workers get raises while others are left with no increases, she said.
Brinker said if employees or department heads have questions about the integrity of the county commission they “better think again.”
Recorder of Deeds Sharon Birkman said last week that animosity between various county department heads seems to be on the rise.
But County Assessor Tom Copeland said he does not see hostility between department heads.
“There’s tension and issues with anything and everything in today’s world,” Copeland said.
If there are issues between certain department heads, Copeland said he is not part of it and that he will work with his colleagues to resolve issues.
Moreover, Copeland said he is not going to follow Sheriff Gary Toelke’s lead and make comments about county employee morale.
In an article in The Missourian last week, the sheriff said morale among his deputies is low because pay raises have not been given in five years. As a result, the sheriff said deputies are leaving the sheriff’s office to work for other agencies that pay better.
In the end, Copeland said it is easier to work with everyone and be a part of a team than to be isolated.
Dissension and morale in the county have not been this bad since the mid-1990s, Emmons said. At that time, there were similar problems going on with pay issues, she noted.
Brinker said he is not on the county commission to be a cheerleader. If there are employees who do not like how the county is being run, they are free to leave, Brinker said.
There are other people qualified to do the job, Brinker said, adding that the county’s benefits are very good. The county commission believes the employees are the greatest asset, but giving raises is costly, Brinker said. For instance, he said a 1 percent across-the-board increase would cost $150,000.
The current problems mainly go back to the fact that certain county employees got raises this year while others did not, Emmons said.
She is referring to the fact that the recorder of deeds and assessor were able to use savings from leaving positions vacant to give employee raises.
Emmons said other county employees need raises, too. There has not been an across-the-board pay raise since 2008.
It also was recently reported that some smaller counties pay their workers more money than Franklin County pays its employees, and Emmons said this creates jealousy.
The fact that the county is paying off debt for the new government center and judicial center is likely hampering the county commission’s ability to give raises, Emmons said.
Animosity From the Newspaper?
Franklin County Highway Administrator Eva Gadcke said, “To be truthful the animosity is in the paper.”
While Birkman may feel there is animosity between some county officials, Gadcke said she has not experienced it.
All of the county employees wish raises could be given, but nobody is stomping around mad, Gadcke said.
“This is just a difficult time for everyone,” she said.
Meanwhile, Gadcke said she does not see a breakdown in services.
Even if there were disagreements between county officials, Gadcke said she thinks they could look past those problems to serve the best interests of the citizens.
The last thing she wants the citizens to think is that they are not getting the services they deserve, she said.
County employees, ranging from elected officials to hired help, are there to work and get the job done, Gadcke said.
Franklin County is continually changing, she said, adding that there is a sincere effort by the elected officials to grow with the needs.
“Money does get in the way of that,” Gadcke said.