Archived Story

Berrien County Road Commission staff allege hostile work environment

Published 11:19pm Thursday, August 23, 2012

ST. JOSEPH — Employee complaints festering since June of a hostile workplace at Berrien County Road Commission are coming to a head.

Dave Pagel, chairman of the Berrien County Board of Commissioners, said Thursday he will send a letter demanding a response by Aug. 31.

“If we don’t get a report by a week from (today), I think our options become very clear,” Commissioner R. McKinley Elliott, chairman of the administration committee from Buchanan, said. “I could probably get a space shuttle ready to launch in six weeks.”

Commissioners have no say in road commission budgets or operations, but members are subject to county board appointment and removal.

Road commission members spent hours in closed session with their lawyer during Wednesday’s meeting.

Corporate counsel Donna Howard said, “There was no demand for the report” of the investigation by human resources consultant Char Wenham. “My other concern is that, given you are a public body, if given to you it becomes a public record of Berrien County and FOIA-able,” or obtainable through the Freedom of Information Act. “That’s probably why the commission has not disclosed whatever information they may have from that report. How information contained in there gets to you, I’m not sure.”

“My intention in the earlier letters” June 8 and July 19 “is just some communication that they’re responding to concerns,” said Pagel, of Berrien Springs. “It’s not going to demand the actual investigation report, I just want a response that they’re listening, addressing and progressing. We’re going to have to be very firm this time. It’s disturbing to hear an agenda is not being followed or minutes are being changed improperly.”

“They don’t have to give us the report,” Commissioner Jeanette Leahey of St. Joseph agreed, “but we need some guidance on what they’re doing.”

“We expected information back and there has been none,” said Commissioner Andrew Vavra of Three Oaks.

“After this amount of time, and the level of detail we’re getting in terms of concerns expressed by people, some here today, we need something of substance,” said Elliott, a Niles attorney. “Generalities will not do. “We’ve got to get this thing on the table, take a look at it objectively and be fair about it — not stampeding.

“If we don’t, we basically have the tail wagging the dog.”

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