The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Opinion

January 16, 2013

Editorial: Judge’s ruling on county office holders should be challenged

It was with some surprise that Grant County Judge Warren Haas ruled that the contract between Madison County and UAW 1963 does not apply to all office holders under the county umbrella.

We think the judge’s ruling should be challenged.

When Angela Shelton and Larry Davis were elected as recorder and assessor, respectively, they began firing long-term employees and refusing to recognize their employees’ union contract. They said since they didn’t negotiate the union contract they didn’t have to abide by it. The contract had been negotiated in 2009 by the commissioners and the UAW.

This had apparently never been a problem in the past, but the tea party Republicans who were elevated to power in 2010 decided to make an issue of it, specifically Davis and Shelton. Shelton resigned her office late last year amid allegations that she conducted, or allowed others to conduct, political activities out of her office.

This ruling is problematic for a number of reasons.

Haas concluded that elected officers are independent of the commissioners in the appointment, discipline and removal of employees regardless of the grievous procedure set forth in the contract. Haas took issue with a term in the contract that allowed for firing following just cause. He said that conflicted with Indiana being an at-will state.

The contract “usurps and impairs the elected officer’s authority and independence with respect to their deputies and employees.”

All labor agreements do that, and this one was entered into by the county and accepted by all elected officials in Madison County. Legal rulings such as these assume that labor contracts, far from being binding, are just waiting to be broken by a judge.

These are political offices. State law specifies that when a new office holder takes over, she can discharge those employees who are in policy positions or those she must confide in and replace them with others akin to her policy leanings. Workers who carry out the policies cannot be fired simply because there is a new office holder.

Taking the matter to its theoretical extreme, each time a new office holder begins her term, all employees in the office can be fired, which would leave the office chaotic, not to mention filled with cronies.  

The union, along with the laws regarding discharge, serves as a buffer between long-time employees and the political whims of the office holder.

This ruling splits the county building into feifdoms and is an egregious offense to those discharged who will have no recourse to challenge their fate but who would with a union contract, which provides professional stability for all of the offices.

We urge that this ruling be challenged.

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