A pparently inserting a little bit of professionalism into the mix when it comes to boss/employee relationships is a tough pill to swallow for some who work for county government.
The county commissioners took a bold step about a month ago, by approving a code of conduct -- the county's first such effort -- that established in writing certain standards in areas such as conflicts of interest, misuse of authority, use of public resources, verbal abuse of employees and avoiding the use of personal comments that someone might find offensive or threatening.
The code was eight pages long and applied to all elected and appointed officials employed by the county. That was the intent.
But some county officials -- in particular, several row officers -- were offended by the code. The ink was barely dry on the document before the whining started. In fact, I think the whining might have started before any ink was applied to the document.
To put it mildly, a number of row officers got their knickers all in a twist at the very idea that anyone should suggest they be held to a code of conduct.
They are above such things, don't you know?
How dare the commissioners suggest they weren't conducting themselves in a professional way.
Especially, they say, since the commissioners are not the bosses of those elected to head the 10 row offices. Where do commissioners get off telling row officers how they should handle their staff?
But that's not what the commissioners were doing at all. In fact, President Commissioner Steve Chronister made it very clear before a vote was even taken that he's not the boss of the elected row officers and has no enforcement authority over them. The code of conduct was simply a guideline, he said. That's all.
Actually, the relationship between commissioners and row officers is established by that section of state law known as "1620," which pretty much determines that row officers operate by their own authority and independent from county officials.
They are their own bosses, in other words.
So don't tell them what to do. Don't hold them to a code of conduct.
That's the voters' job every four years. If the voters don't like how the row officers are doing their jobs, they can vote them out of office.
That is the ultimate code of conduct, some row officers believe.
Well, yes, that's true.
Except for one thing.
Row officers can be the biggest tyrants on the planet, they can treat employees with disrespect, they can yell and scream, they can use profanity, they can conduct themselves unprofessionally. They can be out-and-out bullies in the work environment.
And darned few voters would know anything about it.
How would they know?
I'm in and out of the various county row offices more than the average citizen, I'm sure, and I can't say I've ever heard a row officer say or do anything I considered unprofessional or offensive.
That doesn't mean it's never happened, of course, just that I haven't seen or heard it. So if I don't know, how would the average voter know?
And if voters don't know, how can they evaluate a given row officer? How can they hold row officers to a standard of conduct if they have no idea -- other than what the incumbent row officer tells them during a re-election campaign -- what's going on in a particular row office?
Sure, "1620" holds row officers accountable only to voters. They have no bosses, not in the traditional sense of the word. I think everyone knows that.
The code is there -- use it or don't use it. Chronister is on target when he said row officers don't have to follow the code, but he isn't sure why they wouldn't want to.
That makes two of us.
I don't see how it hurts anyone -- not even row officers -- to be reminded there is a certain standard of conduct to which every county employee, even elected/appointed management types, should aspire.
So I think it's high time row officers who got their feelings hurt to climb down from their pedestals and realize it's not a slap in their faces that a code of conduct has been established for all county workers.
Even the high and mighty -- if that's truly what row officers are -- might need an occasional reminder that ruling by intimidation is unprofessional.
And if that's what they're doing, here's one voter who'd like to know about it each and every time it happens.
So I can exercise my prerogative to vote them out of office in the next election.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.