MENOMINEE - Menominee County Commissioners agreed unanimously Tuesday to grant an exception to its 10-month-old hiring freeze to allow Sheriff Kenny Marks to hire several temporary part-time corrections employees.

The decision was reached in a courtroom packed with county employees and members of the general public and only after some commissioners were assured that, by doing so, those employees would not eventually fall under the county's existing retirement plan. It also was decided on a night when Marks gave his "State of Sheriff's Department" report - which accounted for many of the employees of his department being present.

Also attending the meeting were Prosecuting Attorney Dan Hass and Teamsters' Business Agent Kevin Keveney, who have both been involved in recent days in determining the status those new employees would attain.

Hass was asked by the county board, after a special meeting called Wednesday, to look at whether those new, temporary employees, would not be eligible for the existing retirement plan in later years, should they be hired as full-time employees in the future.

Hass talked with the union and the county's representative at the Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS) to determine that these employees would not be considered eligible for inclusion in the sheriff's employees contract unless they worked more than 144 hours a month. "They would have to work three full months (at full-time hours) before they can apply for inclusion."

Commissioner John Nelson reiterated his concern that the four weeks during which the new employees would attend training and schooling, which would put them at 160 hours for the 28-day period, would conflict with the 144-hour limit.

"Will they go into the union?" he asked.
Keveney said that the hours spent attending schooling and training are not considered hours "regularly scheduled to work."

Nelson asked if the county could be assured that the employees who were hired couldn't come back later and declare those training hours as working hours.

"That hasn't been the intent," said Keveney, who clarified it further, by adding, "it hasn't been the practice." He also said the sheriff's department has to employ trained corrections officers, and that even if potential employees attend the training, "If they do not pass, they are not hired."

Commissioner Jan Hafeman asked if the county could get something in writing from the union, something such as a letter of understanding, that made these opinions official.

Keveney said that information was spelled out in an email sent to commissioners last week, and to create another document is unnecessary.

"I think it is a redundancy with the contract. Everything mentioned in your motion is included (in the contract language)," he said.

Commissioner Larry Schei added that individuals hired in these positions already sign a form that exempts them from benefits as temporary, part-time employees.

Hass said, while no one can predict the future, the board could be secure in information received from MERS and the union and did its own due diligence to research the facts before making the decision.

The motion to approve an exception to the hiring freeze to allow the sheriff's department to hire temporary part-time employees in the corrections department within (the department's) budget with no retirement, health, vacation, sick, holiday or compensatory time benefits available to the employees was made by Schei and seconded by Nelson, and received all nine votes.