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Commission to stop interfering in work

If you've got a pothole in front of your house that county road crews say they won't be able to fix for a week, don't expect your district's county commissioner to start heads rolling.

For commissioners, interfering in daily operations just became a punishable offense.

County commissioners spent several hours at a workshop Wednesday hashing out guidelines for when it is appropriate for them to intercede on a resident's behalf and when it is not.

Commissioners, with the insistence of County Administrator Bonnie Dyga, agreed it is never appropriate to go directly to a department director with a resident's complaint about county services. All complaints will go through Dyga's office, and commissioners who violate that policy will be subject to formal censure by the commission.

"That's promoting inequitable service. That's influencing service delivery," Dyga said, referring to commissioners' attempts to resolve residents' complaints. Dyga said she cannot do her job and be held accountable for the county's operations if commissioners intercede in the county's daily operations.

"If there's a problem with the departments I need to know. That's my job. That's what you hired me to do," Dyga said.

Although they can report first-time requests from residents for county services directly to department directors, commissioners agreed to filter all complaints through Dyga's office. And although they are free to request information directly from department directors, commissioners agreed not to request anything from any staff member who ranks below the level of department director.

The commissioners' workshop, which has been postponed numerous times, was not-so-subtly aimed at Commissioner Pat Novy, who has earned herself the moniker of maverick commissioner for her history of going directly to county employees and for acting without the blessing of her colleagues.

In March, Novy received a biting memo from Dyga after she wrote to Utilities Director Dick Radacky and asked why the county was not pumping water away from a flooded neighborhood.

On Wednesday, commissioners asked County Attorney Bruce Snow whether the board as a whole could be liable for the actions of an individual commissioner. After Snow said it could, commissioners hit upon the idea to censure each other if they violated their own policies for conduct.

Though the censure carries no real penalty, commissioners agreed the humiliation of being rebuked was punishment enough.

"They shouldn't be handed out like jelly beans. They should be handed out for very serious matters," Commissioner Paul Sullivan said.

Novy objected, saying commissioners were ultimately responsible to their constituents, not to each other. If commissioners stray from the purpose for which they were elected, the public will notice, Novy said.

"We shall not be elected by censure of the public."

In addition to conduct policies, commissioners also agreed to give a trial run to a new system of having residents fill out cards before they speak at commission meetings. Those cards will request residents' names and, in the case of public hearings, residents' positions on the issue.

At Dyga's request, commissioners also will specify what they think is their conflict if they want to abstain from a vote.