June 09, 2010 - For Beverly Shaver, township assessor, hiring a new Human Resources department head when employees have been laid off doesn't seem wise.
Neither does throwing in four weeks of vacation.
"I was hired as a department head with the typical steps in granting vacation," Shaver said. "It's taken me seven years to get to three weeks. I don't understand the wisdom in giving her four weeks off the get-go."
After an hour debate, Independence Township Board made Carol Gabris a full-time township employee in charge of human resources.
"I've been very pleased with Carol Gabris over the (almost) year. What she's done in that short time is beyond anything I expected. I think she's done a terrific job," said Clerk Shelagh VanderVeen at the June 1 meeting. "I think this has been a step forward for this township towards professionalism."
The board approved the full-time position, $64,150 salary with benefits at department head level, voting 4-3. Trustee Mark Petterson, Treasurer Curt Carson, and Supervisor Dave Wagner voted "no."
VanderVeen originally recommended waiving the probationary period and granting Gabris four weeks of vacation time.
VanderVeen pointed out Gabris was paid $87,000 as a contract employee. When VanderVeen asked her to join the township full-time, she said Gabris "realized the economic situation" and there won't be any salary increases for some time.
"She accepted this salary amount with the provision she be allowed the four week vacation in lieu of any salary increase over the next years," VanderVeen said.
Department of Public Works Director Linda Richardson agreed that giving Gabris four weeks was "unfair to the employees," and said she has watched "the morale of the employees go down daily," due to the topic of HR.
"You are cutting our benefits, trying to cut costs, we understand that, but then you bring somebody in new and give them more benefits and vacation time then what the current employees are getting," she said. It's a slap in the face to the employees."
Township resident and former Clerk Joan McCrary agreed.
"The employees continue to do all they can to provide the township residents the same exceptional service, but with less staff. The board is doing the current employees and a taxpayer a disservice by having a new full-time position when people are laid off, departments nearly eliminated, doesn't that mean there is a hiring freeze," she asked. "Why couldn't this lady still be continued on a contract basis? Why does it have to be full-time employee with ongoing benefits from now until dooms day when we're suppose to be having cutbacks?"
McCrary noted she was asked by several employees to speak, because some were afraid of "incriminations and different things."
Wallace said he was "sorry to hear moral is down."
"I know it will be down generally," he said. "There is nothing we can do about it."
Petterson said he had employees telling him that Gabris was not working "full-time," so he decided to do his own investigation and found out of 35 days Gabris had nine "no shows."
"Twenty days scheduled in one month, there were six days not worked at all. One was a holiday, three no shows, one out early and one sick day. I agree with the sick day, you're sick you're sick," he said. "However 12 of the days worked showed she came in after 9:30 a.m. five of those 12 days she came in after 1 pm."
Trustee David Lohmeier said it was "disingenuous" to call Gabris out on hours, when her contract did not require her to work certian hours.
"Hours were not what she was going to be accountable to," he said. "Delivery of the workload was." Petterson said he agreed to the position of HR, but never agreed to the price.
"You're giving her full-time township benefits, which mean you're burdening the taxpayers of this township forever. We're laying off people ladies and gentleman, we're sending people home," he said. "What part of we're broke do you not understand?"
He also noted one of the reasons for hiring HR was to save money on attorney fees during negotiations.
Wallace said "there was never a notion to save money on union negotiations."
"The money to be saved was day to day questions could be handled by an HR director were being referred to an attorney at $150-$200 an hour whatever we're paying him," he said. "That's where the savings were to come in not in union negotiations."
However, when the board approved the Gabris on July 21, 2008, Trustee Larry Rosso said much of her role will cover negotiations, formally handled by the township attorney, which was "quite expensive."
"I think we can avoid many of the pitfalls we've had before with employee suits and such matters," he said. "I think the cost benefit will be outstanding in our favor and I welcome Mrs. Gabris to our township and I give her my full support."
Wallace said "there are a lot of good reasons" why they need to hire HR as full-time. He believes the "bumping process" couldn't have been handled without Gabris.
"The contract situation was to be an experiment. We budgeted in our December budget to make this person an employee. We need to secure these services, they're good for the taxpayer, they're good for the board, and I think they're very good for the employees," he said. "Those who have been paying attention know the kinds of things this person has been able to accomplish for us in the last year."
"We've slotted it, we budgeted for it, that's what we intended to do," Lohemeier said. "I think we should follow through with it."
Rosso believes the 21 century and economic conditions "demands" the need for HR.
"I think it's an asset to have the HR person and the person that is in this position," he said.
Carson agreed they needed an HR person, but said the board still needed to do a "performance review" of Gabris and was worried hiring HR full-time as a township employee would "saddle the township" for long-term costs and wages, when down the road the township may not need an HR director because an elected official may have such skill sets.
"From a business perspective I don't understand where we're going with this because if you're a board member who likes the way things is going with this position why would you want to change it, Carson asked. "If you're a board member who has reservations then you certainly would not want to tie up the townships resources. We need to stay flexible and keep our options open."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.