Board amends policy
WCSSB explores human resource options
How to improve morale and working conditions at Walsh County Social Services (WCSS), the possibility of hiring an additional human resource consultant, and a policy change regarding conflict resolution were three main topics of discussion at last Thursday’s regular meeting of the Walsh County Social Service Board.
The past five months have been tumultuous at WCSS. In February, a social worker Keyetta Wakini was placed on administrative leave for an incident revolving around a conflict between her and WCSS director Twila Novak. Both Wakini and Novak had letters of warning put in their files over the incident. Wakini was reinstated to her social work position in March.
On April 3, the WCSSB decided to terminate Wakini.
In the course of their firing of Wakini, the board held an executive session in violation of North Dakota Century Code open meeting laws and was forced to hire Wakini back when they did not follow proper Merit System procedures when it came to her termination.
In May, Novak was questioned when she took extended medical leave without following proper procedure.
The WCSSB exonerated Novak of any wrong doing at their regular June meeting, but did point out that communication with staff at social services could have been better during the situation.
At their July 2, meeting the Walsh County commissioners disagreed and passed a motion to have a letter of warning placed in Novak’s file regarding the medical leave issue.
In May and June, Walsh County State’s Attorney Barbara Whelan attend the WCSSB meetings and on both occasions informed them of complaints her office had received about alleged improper behavior by Novak and other employees. In each occasion the board took no action on the complaints. Novak’s annual evaluation was completed by the board in July. She received praise for her fiscal management of the social services department but scored low when it came to communication and relating with staff.
Over the past few months the WCSSB has been discussing additional help when it comes to human resources. An option brought up is hiring a human resource specialist that is familiar with the North Dakota state merit system.
The board met with Ken Wiesen at last Thursday’s meeting. Wiesen was the director of human resources at the State Developmental Center from 1994-2006 and is well versed in the merit system as well as corrective action policy and procedure and progressive discipline.
Wiesen said when resolving issues in the workplace, he likes to use a set of values that can be explained with the word TRUST. T meaning teamwork. R meaning respecting each other. U meaning understanding. S mean safe – the ability for an employee to communicate without feeling threatened or being worried about a hidden agenda. Lastly T standing for tact as to how employees communicate with each other.
Board member Peggy Niswonger said she is most interested in the “chain of command”when it came to grievances.
She said she was concerned about complaints going directly to the state’s attorney’s office or the county commission instead of coming before the WCSSB first.
“One policy states that if someone has a conflict with the director they are to go to the chairman (of the WCSSB),” Niswonger said. “In another policy it says go to the state’s attorney. So we don’t have concrete direction.”
The board made no decision on whether or not to hire Weisen for additional HR help and will discuss the matter at the next meeting.
In other business the board passed a motion to change the wording in its conflict resolution policy.
Section four of the current policy states: “Following the Director’s efforts, any unresolved conflict may be brought to Human Resources. At that point, if the conflict still cannot be resolved, HR will involve the necessary individuals to assist in finding an acceptable resolution (this may include County Commissioners, Social Service Board Members and/or State’s Attorney).”
The revised policy regarding section 4 states: “Following the Director’s efforts, any unresolved conflict will be brought to the attention of the WCSSB.”
The policy also states that conflicts between an employee and the director should come directly to the WCSSB first.
Board member Tork Kilichowski approved the motion to amend the conflict resolution policy. It was seconded by Niswonger and passed unanimously with all members present, with the exception of Jack Karas who was absent.