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Heated exchange precedes move to part time

By John Estridge, Editor

It was good the Union County Council members took up the matter of making some Health Department employees part time, from their current full-time status, after the lunch break.

Had it been before, most of the council members would have probably come down with indigestion.

As it was, council president Richard Blank had to raise his voice, saying everyone had to agree to disagree, and he moved the budget hearings on.

All this occurred Thursday, August 29, during county council's budget hearing.

First, council member Chris Rosenberger argued council should not use the commissioners' attorney, Jim Williams, for legal opinions. Instead, council should hire its own attorney. He read Indiana Code to back him up. The reason is Rosenberger does not believe council has the authority to regulate pay for Health Department employees.

Previously, Williams gave his opinion council has that authority.

After Rosenberger spoke, council person Bonnie Adams summarized what Rosenberger said and asked him “You're saying we can't make decisions about salaries for the Health Department?”

Rosenberger said “no” at the same time council member Jim Hensley said “sure we can: that's our job as council.”

Not surprisingly that led to raised voices.

“I gave you the law,” Rosenberger said. “You have it in your hand.”

“You gave me the law, but the attorney said…,” Hensley tried to speak.

“I don't care what the attorney said,” Rosenberger said.

“I don't care what you say,” Hensley retorted. “How about that?”

“Then, where does council get their authority to do this?” Rosenberger asked. “Where do you get classified employees and set their wages? Where does that come from?”

“We don't classify the employees,” Blank said. “We set their wages.”

“We set their budgets,” Bonnie Adams said.

Rosenberger read from the statute again.

According to Rosenberger, the Health Board members give council its budget after the board members approve it. At that point, council cannot change it.

“That means that's how it stands,” Rosenberger said about the health board members approving the schedule. “We can't change it.”

Bonnie Adams said the statute Rosenberger read said council can set salaries for the Health Department, among others, and then he used the word “notwithstanding.”

“Well, that's if they contradict us,” Bonnie Adams said. “Our Health Department contradicts us, and they haven't.”

“They have never said a word after knowing what the commissioners had recommended,” Hensley said.

Earlier in the year, county commissioners had recommended some positions at the Health Department be reduced from full-time to part-time. It is a way of saving money for the county, commissioners said at the time. When the extension secretary resigned, which was a full-time position, commissioners made the position part-time before another person was hired.

“To me, what you're trying to tell us…,” Hensley began.

“It's not what I'm trying to tell you,” Rosenberger interrupted. “That's what the law said.”

“That's how you are interpreting the law,” Hensley said.

“The attorney, that doesn't have any legal authority, gives us a bias arguing it his way,” Rosenberger said.

“You know, Chris, I'm sorry that you have bad feelings with Jim Williams,” Hensley said.

“I don't have,” Rosenberger said. “Why do you have bad feelings? This is all over a former council member's daughter getting kicked out of the building down there. That's where all of this started.”

“I have no idea what you're talking about,” Hensley said amid a cacophony of voices all speaking at once.

“That's where all this started trying to get away from the Health Department,” Rosenberger said. “I asked Trish (Persinger, council member) 'if the Health Board didn't have any authority to do this, why did you make a motion to make those positions part-time when you were on the board?”

“I did have the authority,” Persinger said. “The board did have the authority. But the board also…”

“You're saying they don't,'” Rosenberger interrupted.

“I didn't say that,” Persinger said.

“If the council's doing it, then…” Rosenberger started.

“Hold on,” Persinger interrupted right back. “What I think I'm saying, I don't know about anybody else, they have to budget to the amount of money we give them. And if we tell them we're going to cut their budget in half, and they want to keep somebody full-time, that's their decision. Not ours.

“So, yes the commissioners voted on part-time,” she continued. “But that just flips financially to us. We say 'we're going to give you this much money. And what you decide to do with that money is up to you as a Health Board.' That's how I interpret it.”

“We're putting subsidies to you for bus rides to you to get that money,” Rosenberger said. “But we can't put priority on health inspections, public health. That's a lower priority than bus rides.”

Persinger manages public transportation in Union County.

“I am not speaking personally, and you are,” Persinger said. “Why are you attacking the transit? That has nothing to do with the Health Department. In fact, the transit is very beneficial to the Health Department.”

“Yes it does,” Rosenberger responded. “Because you're saying that bus rides are more important than the Health Department.”

“I abstained,” Persinger said.

“Wo, wo, wo,” Blank said.

“Nobody's saying that,” Hensley said.

“That's what council's saying,” Rosenberger said. “You are prioritizing…”

“Let's agree that we have a disagreement,” Blank said. “Let's say 'we have a disagreement.' But we do have a disagreement. I respect everybody's opinion. Everybody's entitled to their opinion. This is a board that makes decisions, and it's based on a majority decision.”

“It's a financial decision,” Bonnie Adams said.

“It's not a personal decision,” Blank said.

Bonnie Adams agreed with Blank about the decision is not personal.

“It's just that we approve the money,” she said.

After the debate, council made the office manager a part-time position, making her salary $19,715 for a 28-hour week at $13.50 per hour. The sanitarian is $23,325 at $16.02 an hour for 28 hours.

With moving the employees to part time, the county does not provide those employees with health insurance and other county employee benefits.

The vote for the cuts was 5-2 with Jeff Adams and Rosenberger against the motion.