Berrien wants meeting with road boardPublished 7:42pm Thursday, September 6, 2012
ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County commissioners intend to compel the five road commissioners to meet with them and explain themselves.
County commissioners expressed dissatisfaction Thursday with the summary received of the road commission investigation into June employee allegations of a hostile work environment.
The road commission met for several hours in closed session Aug. 29 with its attorney before determining managing director Rhonda Hildebrand will return to her previous position as finance director, though she and two other managers at the center of the controversy, David Fritz, maintenance superintendent, and Kevin Reed, traffic services manager, will not be subjected to disciplinary action.
“It can be a letter signed by the chair,” corporate counsel Donna Howard said, though, “We do have the authority to subpoena.”
“They are not our employees,” said Commissioner R. McKinley Elliott, administration committee chairman, “but we appoint them to serve at our pleasure.”
“We are not reconducting the investigation, but focusing on our role as appointers,” Chairman Dave Pagel said. “Our option would be to remove some of them if we deem they weren’t carrying out their role properly, rather than focusing on the nitty-gritty of who said what when.”
Elliott said, “We may have people on that road commission right now who want to do the right thing but aren’t being allowed. I’d like them to be able to tell us what’s going on. Some of the nitty-gritty has to do with how they’ve conducted themselves. I loathe to micromanage anyone, but the summary raised as many questions as it answered. I’m uncomfortable with the status quo. I respect that they operate semi-autonomously, but in 27 years I’ve been associated with the county, I don’t recall a situation like this. We have no means of independently verifying anything in that report, which doesn’t deal with some pretty serious questions raised. We need to delve into this because there’s been too much for too long. I don’t want to assume the worst and owe them the benefit of the doubt, but I also don’t want false information to adopt validity simply by virtue of repetition. There’s enough smoke here to at least know whether or not there was a fire. If the comment was made that if we provide more funding, then our guidance will be heeded, that’s unacceptable.”
Milt Sluder, a road commission foreman, told commissioners, “I’m not here to point fingers, but problems like this never go away if action is not taken. They fester and grow bigger. Three months have passed. Look at the facts, make a decision and take action.”
Another road commission employee, Doug Hartzler, said, “We’re here again because problems still exist. The managing director is the same negative force along with her other two team members. The public statement was weak at best. It does not address our original grievances of June 6. What about our concern for a hostile environment and what about our concern for rampant incompetency and dishonesty? You appointed these road commissioners and someone has to get held responsible for their actions. No one seems to want to step up and take care of this mess. The road commission’s environment has increasingly worsened. Hostile doesn’t seem like a strong enough word anymore.”