Ed. Note: Fayette Newspapers is in the process of reviewing some of the files in discussion and will offer a preview in our Wednesday paper leading up to the meeting in question February 8.
A Wednesday afternoon special called meeting of the County Board of Commissioners brought what could be a preview of a volatile meeting on February 8. Wednesday’s meeting, called by vice-chair Randy Ognio, was spurred on by Commissioner Steve Brown sending files related to an investigation of the work environment at the county’s 911 call center to the media. Though that investigation is not on the agenda until Feb. 8, it did spill into the special meeting.
Tensions were high from the outset, with Brown declaring before the agenda was approved, “I think this meeting’s totally unnecessary, and I’d just like to have that on the record.”
Ognio opened the item saying, “This agenda is concerning commissioners’ access to personnel files, that’s all that’s on the agenda, and we’re going to limit the talk.”
Brown countered, “Are you saying you’re going to censor discussion?”
Ognio said it was his meeting and he was chairing it and he would limit talk to the agenda item.
“Can you define the boundaries of this agenda item? How far out can we go?” asked Brown. “We can’t discuss what brought this meeting about?”
Ognio replied, “No.”
Brown didn’t care for that answer.
“Oh, give me a break. That’s ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “That’s censorship.”
The dispute over accessing personnel files comes from Brown researching complaints regarding the work environment at the county’s 911 call center and sharing those files with the media.
“As a member of the Board of Commissioners, I would rather see us lead by example than set up policies that don’t apply to us,” Ognio said.
Commissioner Charles Oddo agreed.
“We should be leading by example,” he said. “We are the leaders here supposedly, and we should be acting that way.”
Ognio’s motion was to instruct the Board of Commissioners to follow all 108 policies and instruct the county attorney to ensure there are no conflicts with the policy pertaining to access to personnel files.
Brown maintains he did nothing in violation and followed the state open records law. He did not share any information that is exempted from open records law, he said.
“If you look at the county attorney’s opinion, I followed the law to the letter,” he said.
“All the documents are going out. We’re going to have a river of documents, and I’m going to do it whatever way you tell me. We’re going to get them all out there, and people are going to know what their government is doing.”
He said he was doing his part to bring to the taxpayers information they deserve to see.
“If we’re going to say that’s wrong, let’s all go home. We don’t need a government anymore, we’ll let the gestapo run the show,” he said. “If you want someone to publicly acknowledge that they accessed a record, if that’s criminal behavior, put the cuffs on me, I’m ready to go to jail.”
Brown is livid that some of the commissioner’s were kept in the dark over such a critical issue. He recounted a “heart to heart talk” he had with Chairman Eric Maxwell the day before.
“He admitted to me that he actually did have some knowledge of what was going in the 911 call center.”
Asked when he learned about the investigation, Ognio said he did not recall when he first learned of it.
Brown asked that a stipulation be added to the motion that the county administrator also follow county policies, but Ognio resisted adding it to his motion.
“I don’t know why the policies and procedures of this county don’t apply to county administrator,” Brown said, noting that the administrator himself has said they do not according to his contract. “Why does he have a higher level of executive execution than the top five elected officials of the county government? I don’t get that. Does he have a boss? I don’t know, maybe he’s our boss. Maybe that’s why we’re having the meeting today.”
Rousseau spoke about what he called an “organizational crisis.” Agreeing with Brown that the anyone under their umbrella should be included, he said, “I can’t say we’re going to follow something and then have an employee under us not follow the same things or be held accountable. It’s tricky.”
Rousseau asked that recommendations be brought back regarding specific steps and standards, such as no electronic devices allowed in the room while viewing personnel files. He added that there must also be come consequence for violating protocol.
“We can have all the rules we want to have, but if there’s no repercussions for acting outside of the rules then they’re not worth the paper they’re written on,” he said. “We have a crisis, people. We’re trying to deal with it as openly and honestly and fairly as we possibly can.”
Rapson said before the vote that he does follow the policies.
“I have followed those policies since day one,” he said. “I am shocked to say that anyone thinks I’ve not followed those policies. I have no problem amending my contract (to say I will follow the policies).”
After saying he could not amend the motion, Ognio eventually relented and added that the county administrator must also follow county policies and procedures, receiving a unanimous vote in support.