(Seguin) -- Guadalupe County commissioners are looking to either change or clarify exactly what happens to a county employee's paycheck when bad weather or other some other emergency forces the shut down of county government.
Confusion and even some emotional distress were recently reported among some employees after they learned that they would be forced to use their personal leave, comp time, or vacation days for any hours they were short on their time sheet.
Guadalupe County Judge Kyle Kutscher says the initial memo to employees was made following the closure of county offices during the "ice day" on Tuesday, Jan. 16.
"After any county closer, we revert back to our personnel policy that's in place. Ultimately in our personnel policy, it states currently, the county judge has the discretion on how to handle that day for paying employees -- whether the county will just pay outright county employees or require employees to use personal leave. A few things led to the decision of requesting employees to use personal leave. Each county employee, dependent upon their years of service, generates regular vacation and sick time. If an employee has worked between one and 10 years, they receive two weeks vacation, over 10 years, up to 20 years, it's three weeks vacation, over 20 years, they receive four weeks vacation. In addition to that normal vacation, employees, every January first, receive three additional personal leave days, 24 hours. In the original policy when those were created, those days were intended to be used for inclement weather or emergency closures of county offices, bereavement leave for funerals or personal business. With the understanding that that was the original intent of the personal leave, along with it being the first part of January and the county employees just receiving those personal leave days and also understanding that a single day of payroll with the county is approximately $122,000, I made the decision to request employees to use a personal leave day," said Kutscher.
Initiating a late start in for the county's daily operation has occurred in the past. But, Kutscher says it's been a very long time since the county has been forced to shut down the whole day. Plus, he says precedence had already been somewhat established by former officials who just simply paid employees during those rare occasions.
"That decision then led to some concern and comments from department heads, county employees, because that really hasn't happened in the past and it's not something that is that common. So what we talked about in commissioners court is trying to find a clear and better path forward so we have a policy in place that is very clear and understandable from the employee side but is also fair to the taxpayers and basically just talked about how if employees were given those additional days for that specific use, but then when a bad weather day came and did not use those personal days, now the taxpayers are on the hook for that extra hundred plus thousand dollars -- spending that, paying county employees but not having those services provided," said Kutscher.
Kutscher says an Attorney General's opinion received soon after the initial memo helped to steer a different command to the various department heads -- many who were then forced to make the decision themselves.
"So we actually found an AG (Attorney General)opinion the afternoon of or the day after the decision was made that also stated that our personnel policy was not completely accurate. Now, it is just an AG opinion. It's not something that has gone to court, but we try to take everything into consideration. We want to do things the right way. So finding that AG opinion that states that really the county judge does not have discretion but in fact, it's the elected and or appointed officials who have the discretion on whether their office is closed or not and how county employees get paid, really was kind of an eye opener to us. So we went back and let department heads know of that AG opinion and said 'okay, because of the unclear nature of our personnel policy, in light of the AG opinion that was found, for Jan. 16 bad weather ice day closure, we're going to let department heads make that decision. But now moving forward past this point, we want to make a clear decision and policy to put in place so the public is aware. So the taxpayers are represented in a fair and conservative manner, but also something that employees know this is our personnel policy, this is how each situation will be handled, there's no gray area or confusion like there has been in years past. So that's really our intent moving forward is to include everybody and then get a better policy put in place," said Kutscher.
On Tuesday, it was reported that employees in five departments were adhering to utilizing a vacation day while all other department heads were moving forward with paying their employees for that ice day.
"It definitely is a challenge at the county because you know, elected officials really are their own bosses and appointed officials are hired and work at the pleasure of commissioners court. I mean the important thing that I hope that we focus on, what I mentioned in commissioners court is I know everybody is kind of on their own, but ultimately for the benefit of the public, we have to remain together as a team at the county and if we get into this conversation of pushing back and forth and arguing over whose in charge and that hasn't happen -- I think we're going to try to do everything to prevent that but to ultimately have a real benefit for the public, we need to have a consistent approach to how county offices close on those bad weather days or for whatever emergency situation that may arise. I think if we focus on being taxpayer minded and try to be conservative with those expenditures, but also promote consistency in our closures on the rare occurrence that they do happen and then have a policy that's clear to employees, I think it will be a much better place for the county," said Kutscher.
Even though Kutscher received anonymous and not so friendly phone messages throughout this ordeal, he reminds all employees that this decision was in no way an attack against them and knows that they can still all work together in finding a solution.
Kutscher says it's not fair to have a policy that is unclear. He also says it's unfair for taxpayers to allow an additional three days on top of that day of pay where no services are being offered.
"I think what Commissioner (Greg) Seidenberger was saying was that it wasn't so much that the policy ever changed that much -- it was that the perception of how those personal days were to be utilized -- changed over time. So people expected those just to be extra vacation days. So, it was like a shock, you know a surprise to them," said Kutscher.
Kutscher this week was expected to reach out to each department head for feedback on moving forward. Kutscher says he believes everyone involved can help to clarify the current policy so that there is no longer confusion among employees. Kutscher says he hopes that feedback will be available in time to revisit the issue during next Tuesday's meeting of the Guadalupe County Commissioners Court.