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County discusses employees’ education

Decatur County officials discussed the value of education in the workplace as part of a larger review of county employment regulations at their Tuesday morning meeting.

County Human Resources Director Marjorie Mayfield presented four proposed changes to the county’s employee handbook at the meeting, including one that would set a minimum level of formal education for all newly hired employees.

Under the proposed change suggested by Mayfield, who researched other counties’ employee handbooks, all newly hired persons would have to have graduated from high school or obtained their general equivalency diploma (GED).

“[The requirement] is pretty consistent across the state,” Mayfield said. “There are certain reading and math skills that are required for even the most basic jobs.”

However, some county officials said they opposed requiring workers applying for certain jobs to have a minimum level of education, under the belief it would exclude otherwise good candidates for those jobs.

County Road Department Superintendent Billy Leverette said he was familiar with some heavy equipment operators who performed their jobs capably but did not have a high school diploma or GED. He said to require them would be to deprive those persons of employment.

County Commissioner Butch Mosely, a retired school superintendent, said that while he placed high value on education, he agreed with Leverette that in some instances, the county could hurt its applicant pool with an education requirement. Mosely suggested the handbook could be amended to state that in cases in which applicants were otherwise equal, those who had completed high school would be preferred.

Mosely added the requirement could also rule out applicants who read and spoke another language besides English.

Commissioner Russell Smith said he had a problem with Mosely’s example case.

“Do we really want to hire someone who can’t read the county employee handbook?” Smith asked rhetorically. “The county recently paid out a lot of money because of people who did not follow our rules,” said Smith, referring to recent lawsuits that alleged undesirable conditions at county workplaces.

Commissioner Earl Perry said he thought that if the county did not set a minimum education requirement, it would be sending a poor message to youth and adults who could advance their education.

Commissioner Charles Stafford suggested the county could ask new employees without the minimum education to obtain their GED within a certain period of time.

Commissioner Palmer Rich, who agreed with Mosely and Leverette, said he was in favor of a compromise in the proposed requirement’s wording.

Other proposed changes

County commissioners tabled the education proposal and another that would require county employees to immediately report any arrests, convictions or citations, except for traffic violations, to their supervisors. The amended policy would state that violations of law could have an impact on employment with county government, but infractions would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, Mayfield said.

While commissioners didn’t voice any opposition, Mayfield asked for the chance to revise the requirement to state that county employees who have to drive county-owned vehicles as part of their job would be required to report traffic violations. One of the other new regulations accepted by county commissioners will require county employees who drive county-owned vehicles or equipment to maintain a valid driver’s license.