Knox County panel to follow charter on personnel decisions

Posted Jan. 01, 2009, at 5:56 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Knox County commissioners on Dec. 30 decided to rely on the county charter to guide who is responsible for decisions on hiring and firing personnel.

After a discussion that was continued from the Dec. 16 meeting, the commissioners voted 3-0 Tuesday to follow the county charter and vest personnel decisions in the county administrator.

“I think we all should sit back and use a little give-and-take,” said commissioner Chairman A. Mason Johnson at Tuesday’s meeting.

Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison, not pleased with the ruling, cited state law giving the sheriff responsibility for county law enforcement administration.

According to state law, “the sheriff shall act as the chief county law enforcement officer and is responsible for administering and directing the sheriff’s department as authorized by the county budget,” she reported from a copy of the statute.

State law also says that county commissioners may not give orders directly to any deputies or other subordinates of the sheriff, either publicly or privately, she pointed out.

County Commissioner Lawrence F. Nash, however, contends that the charter supersedes state law on county business and that the county administrator should be responsible for hiring and firing, as stated in the charter.

The issue had to be settled by the end of the year because of talks over a new labor contract for 2009 between the commissioners and their employees’ labor union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 93.

Attorney Peter Marchesi, representing the county commissioners, said earlier that there is no provision in the current year’s union contract to allow it to be carried over into next year.

Attorney Jonathan Berry, representing Sheriff Dennison, said on Dec. 16 that state laws pertaining to the county’s authority, sheriff’s and county administrator’s responsibilities and employment practices have not been altered or abrogated by the charter.

He called the issue a “conflict of laws.”

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners agreed to sell Boomer, the county’s drug dog, to its handler, former Deputy Danielle Welch, for $500.

The county had bought the dog from the Rockport Police Department this year for $4,500, but then the dog developed seizures.

Welch, who resigned in November, had asked the county whether she could purchase the dog, to which the commissioners agreed with conditions.

Knox County Administrator Andrew Hart said the purchase and sale agreement included a clause that Boomer could not be used for police work. If Boomer were used for police work, Welch would have to pay $4,000 to the county.

Hart said Welch agreed to the price but had not yet signed and returned the contract sent to her.

Commissioners approved the agreement provided Welch returned her signed copy and the payment signed within 10 days of the Dec. 30 meeting.

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