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By Sandy Schroth

Time sheet requirement addressed by Holt County leaders


January 9, 2020

The Holt County supervisors addressed cyber security at their final 2019 meeting. The leaders met Dec. 31 at the courthouse in O'Neill.

Steve Anson with Anson Insurance Services was invited, by chairman Bill Tielke, to present information about insuring the county against "hacking" of county computers. Tielke indicated cyber security concerns were raised at a recent convention he had attended.

"I don't think it's a matter that we can keep beating around the bush and not doing something about," Tielke said. "We have a hard enough time paying our bills for roads that were damaged... If we get hacked, and they want $250,000 or $300,000...we'd look kind of dumb when we could have insurance to cover at least that part of it."

He said information presented at the December Nebraska Association of Public Officials convention indicated just assessing a hacked system could cost as much as $60,000, before any information is recovered.

"We definitely need to look into it," supervisor Doug Frahm opined, citing online payments to the county treasurer.

County clerk Cathy Pavel was less concerned. She said online payments to the county treasurer go through a state server.

"I don't think you have to worry about that," she said.

In answer to a question directed by Tielke, the clerk clarified, "I think everybody has to be worried about (cyber security), but I think we do have some policies already in place."

The Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC) provides cyber defense for election-related programs.

Pavel said the county payroll program is secured by Pinnacle Bank.

In addition, user security for both of those programs includes a three-step entry procedure – username, password and a "fob" device that must be plugged into the office computer for access.

Anson said he believed what the leaders are looking for is ransomware insurance.

"You probably can't have a good enough system to stop it," he said. "But you can buy the ransomware insurance to pay them."

He said Great American provides the broadest protection plans but due to the holiday, he was unable to provide price quotes. He said there are eight levels of coverage and recommended purchasing "all of it."

"Public entities are targeted, they (underwriters) rate public entities higher than regular businesses," he said. "Public entities that let people pay bills online, are more susceptible."

Anson also questioned if the county uses an internet technology firm and suggested checking with other area entities for suggestions.

"The longer we go, the more we get on there, the more involved it gets, the more susceptible you are," he said.

The leaders unanimously approved a resolution to set supervisor salaries for 2021 and 2022, as required by Nebraska statute. The 2020 supervisor salary of $17,400 will increase by $100 per month, to $18,600 for calendar year 2021 and 19,800 for 2022, with the board chairman receiving an additional $600 annually. In addition, supervisors are entitled to the same health insurance provisions offered to all county employees, including a $400/$800 cash-in-lieu provision.

In a related matter, Pavel brought to the table a question regarding an employee who had opted out of the county insurance plan and requested the cash-in-lieu stipend. The family has coverage through Medica, a plan offered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and had provided required documentation. However, Medica is not included on the county-approved list of alternate insurance providers. The supervisors approved paying the stipend and amending the list of approved providers on a 7-0 vote.

An item appearing on the agenda for the second time in recent months developed into a lengthy dialog involving several county officials. Time clocks, which also appeared on the Nov. 18 agenda, was again discussed, with no action taken. This time, discussion centered more on policy regarding pay periods and signing off on hours not yet worked, rather than time clocks themselves.

The clerk's staff collects time sheets on the 21st of the month. Payroll claims are then submitted to the supervisors for approval at their next meeting, and automatically deposited to employees' bank accounts on the 31st. Templates of time sheets are provided to employees to record hours worked as well as hours expected to be worked in the interim.

Holt County elected official, public defender Rod Smith, objected to a requirement for staff, whether hourly or salaried, to sign time sheets that included time not yet worked.

"The way it was explained to me, was that we were to turn in time sheets for the month and there would be at least a seven-day period when those hours had not been worked. So, you have from the 21st to the end of the month when, as far as I'm concerned, and it would be my legal opinion, to do that is to file a false claim. You are filing a claim for compensation for work that has not been done and may never be done, we don't know about that. Going back and adjusting the records in the next month doesn't solve that problem," he said. "I'll be blatant about it; I've refused to okay any time sheet since that policy went into effect.

"It would be committing a criminal offense to submit a time sheet for compensation for work that has not been performed... More importantly to me, I don't want my ticket punched to practice law. We have a very strict ethical code we have to follow, and to submit a claim to a governmental body for work that isn't performed yet is a false claim and it violates our ethical code. I will go a step further and say if I, by omission, I approve a false claim - that's what I'm doing by not signing it - I know that claim's going out, so I'm back at that problem again. I think it's, not only inappropriate, its unlawful to submit a claim.

"She was told she wasn't going to get a paycheck if she didn't turn in a time sheet. By her not turning in that time sheet, that's putting me in a position where I think I violate the ethical code and violate statute and I'm just not going to do it anymore. Employees can be salaried or can be hourly, I don't care about that, I don't care about keeping track of time for vacation, sick leave, medical insurance purpose. I think that needs to be done, but I think it's inappropriate and unlawful to submit claims to the board for work that isn't performed...I don't want to start a fight but I'm not going to do the time sheets anymore, it's time to look at the problem and get it resolved...It just makes more sense to not file the claim until the work is done, but that's up to you guys. I don't want to start a war, but I think it's wrong to do it that way and I certainly won't stand still for my staff not getting a paycheck because of accounting procedures. I think the board needs to figure out some way to get a firm legal opinion on it and to suspend requiring filing those claims until you have it."

Smith also explained federal wage and hour regulations regarding salaried employees, including specifications for exemption from overtime requirements.

"If theoretically they work a 40-hour week and they work 35, if they are on a salary you can't deduct anything from their paycheck. The flip side of it is, and I think something that doesn't matter that much to me either, but it might make a difference to this board, is you do have to pay overtime for anybody who is not in the exemption," Smith said. "I know in my office, it would make a big difference because there is probably going to be overtime every month."

Although Kelly agreed that submitting a claim with time not worked is "obviously a lie," and inappropriate, his issue was with the proposed use of time clocks.

"I guess I don't care about the time sheet thing, as far as I know I don't sign those," the county attorney said. "I am more concerned with this idea of the time clock. As far as keeping track of hourly employees, I totally understand will substantially increase efficiency keeping track of hourly employees. Keeping track of salaried employees probably depends on the office ...In terms of fiscal responsibility, I think you are picking a fight that you are going to wish you hadn't, because now all of a sudden, they are going to ask, 'why am I taking calls on my personal cell phone, how come the county doesn't pay $350 a month for a cell phone plan with unlimited data? Why am I using my $1,000 iPhone to handle your business?' If they have to justify every nickel of time that they put in, why doesn't the county have to chip in on the rest of that stuff? I don't think it's right to ask salaried employees to punch a clock."

Pavel offered justification for the policy, saying her staff needs something on paper to ensure each employee gets paid, citing an "ancient software system."

"I guess our thoughts were if you knew you were taking vacation, you'd write that you wouldn't be turning in hours worked for that which you're not, it's not deducting vacation and sick leave because you've already got vacation and sick leave, usually up here at the courthouse, we don't abuse that...Nobody knows when they are going to be sick unless it's some plan, but if you were going to have surgery you'd write that in, then if you were sick accidently, then you would just make that correction on the next month's pay...the check isn't going into their accounts until the 31st. So when you guys are approving it today, we could still back it out," she said.

When Smith then questioned if adjustments would be made on the 31st of a month, she answered, "That's why we were adjusting it the next month...Actually, this is kind of mute because if we were to go forward with the time clocks then we wouldn't be doing that."

The road employees are on a different pay schedule than courthouse employees, with a pay period ending on the third Friday of the month. If time clocks are put in use, the courthouse employees would be transitioned to a similar pay period, which could result in a one-time shortened pay period. Pavel favors a more gradual approach over two or three months.

Sheriff Ben Matchett said his office is on a 28-day schedule, with overtime paid for anything over 171 hours in the 28 days.

Supervisor Steve Boshart opined hours worked should be turned in on the day set by the clerk, with any work completed after the cutoff date to be included on the succeeding pay period. Supervisor Bob Snyder agreed the hours in question should go on the following pay sheet. Supervisor Don Butterfield also opposed signing off on hours that haven't been worked and Frahm suggested changing the time period.

Clerk of the district court Junior Young weighed in on the subject as well. He said, in addition to a full-time salaried staff member, he had one hourly employee who works one day a week. He indicated his one employee and jail staff are the only hourly employees at the courthouse, with the rest being salaried.

However, according to Pavel, there are more.

"We have been trying to hire new employees aw hourly to try to make this change," she said.

Young said, "My gripe is who is in charge of my gal's sick time and vacation time. Sounds like now (Pavel) is in charge of my gal's, keeps track of my gal's sick time and her vacation time. You're telling us that's the reason you want the time piece, for vacation and sick time?"

The clerk answered paid time off is computed by the payroll system and keeping track of it is done as a courtesy to employees.

When asked by Tielke who requires the time sheets, Pavel cited advice from the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Agency's Pam Bourn.

Smith offered no opinion on the choice of time sheets vs. time clocks, indicating personnel policy comes under the purview of the board of supervisors, that employees work for the county, not individual officials.

"That's not my decision to make," he said. "What is my decision to make is if I sign off on a time sheet that I believe to be unethical and unlawful, and if I allow an employee to do that. Pam had no choice about signing off because she was told point blank, she either turned in her time sheet or she didn't get a check."

He and Pavel were also at odds on requirements for salaried personnel.

Pavel said to be on salary, employees need to supervise two other employees.

"No, that is not correct, not under federal law," Smith said. "You define whether a person falls under wage and hour by looking at what their job responsibility is, there's a whole string of case laws and regulations on it, that's what decides, not how many people are under them... there are two kinds, salaried employees who are not subject to wage and hour and ones (who) are subject to it. In Pam's case and the women who work in Brent's office, they are under the wage and hour, and you can't withhold pay and you have to pay them overtime if they turn in hours."

Tielke concluded the discussion, after asking for and receiving from Smith, a copy of the applicable federal regulations.

"This was a good discussion, I don't know that we solved anything, outside of the fact that it probably raised more questions than it answered," the chairman said. "As a board, we will discuss and try to figure out a way to compensate some of the people for going the extra yard. Time clocks had not been agenda items, although it had been discussed as a filler. It was on the agenda for this meeting...Until somebody wants to put it on as an agenda item, it's just a topic of discussion."

Road superintendent Gary Connot filled the leaders in on progress in opening county roads after a significant snowstorm the previous weekend.

"This snow event has been one of the major events, our guys were out Sunday, just on the blacktop roads. Monday, (when I) sent them out, originally the graders were going to try to work the gravel roads, and then we figured out after half of the guys were stuck, that we better pull back and just do primary roads, then we seemed to gain some ground through the day. But we're seeing significant drifting, the guys won't have all the routes covered today, I'm sure. We plan on working tomorrow (New Year's Day). We've been getting quite a few calls...In response to those folks, (we say) that our supervisors went over the routes with our foremen and our operators, to prioritize the routes and give them direction. So that's where, if you guys get some calls from somebody at the end of the line, that's just the way the county priority lies. There's a lot of stuck vehicles out there, especially today. I talked to the DOT, they had 15 stuck cars on the curve north of Atkinson yesterday. People are just not staying home, they like to live 30 miles out in the country and work in town, get to town...We'll keep pecking away at it."

Connot said he would be gone for a week and advised the supervisors to call foremen if they got calls.

Tielke advised he had been contacted by two individuals, one with a snowblower and one who was contemplating purchase of a snowplow, regarding the county hiring private contractors to assist with snow removal. Another lengthy discussion ensued, with points raised about who would make the call to hire additional help, designating extra routes, types of equipment and costs.

Supervisor Darrin Paxton said he would like to have extra help available.

"I think I need extra out there; I get calls every time we can't get there. Somehow, I need somebody else to run a route," he said. "I would like to designate a route that they handle, if it takes our person two hours, it would take them two hours, hire them every time we have to clear roads, they could go do that. We have people living out in the country (who) are commuting to their jobs. I don't want to wait two months (to decide). We're here today."

Connot said current policy allows for hiring private contractors to help if considerable mail routes are blocked, with the cost shared with townships for their roads.

"Do you folks think we are at the point we need to hire somebody to help?" he asked the supervisors.

"There is no solving the problem," supervisor Steve Boshart said. "Because everybody thinks their job is the most important and they all want out to be first, and it can't be done."

Connot suggested preapproved routes, 10 or 20 miles assigned as extra miles that county workers can't get to in a certain timeframe.

"Maybe you are going to realize that we encourage young families to move back to Holt maybe we need to, instead of having 14 grader routes, we have to have 15 or 16 grader routes," he said.

Tielke asked Pavel to place the matter on the Jan. 16 meeting agenda and directed Connot to "think about it."

Connot reported an employee had been injured Dec. 16, while winging snow on a county blacktop road. The wing dug into the road shoulder, bringing the machine to an abrupt stop. The employee, who has been off work since, claims he was using the seatbelt, according to Connot.

"We reported this issue to NMC and Caterpillar and they are also launching an investigation; they haven't had any seatbelt recalls or infractions since the mid-90s so they're wanting to get to the bottom of this," he said. "We told them to go ahead and get us a new seatbelt, come out and install it and take the other one back for the investigation into defects."

A Cat technician came out to attempt to retrieve seatbelt usage from the two-year old machine's onboard computer, but was unsuccessful. The seatbelt functioned properly for the technician. The machine is under warranty. Connot said resolution is in the hands of the county's insurance carrier and the manufacturer.

The leaders received a petition and heard a request from Jacob Reiman to abandon a portion of Chance Road, located west of O'Neill's city limits, and directed Connot to conduct a study and present a recommendation. The road segment, although platted, was never built.

Reiman, who plans to build on the site, said he would like the "imaginary road" remain a "never road" and "close the idea of that road ever opening."

He said he has the blessing of 10 neighbors, and no one opposed his plan.

He was asked if the shed will be private or commercial.

"Well, I've got a whole bunch of 12 cows, so I call it a farm shed, but it's going to be a fancy one," he answered. "I want a 30x40 shed - or else this house will be for sale...will probably be here forever if you guys like me today."

In other business, the supervisors:

~Approved a resolution to allow Speece-Lewis Engineers to design a bridge retrieval plan for the Spencer South Bridge that washed downstream last March;

~Approved a resolution for an interlocal agreement with Boyd County for construction of the bridge retrieval project and construction of a new Naper South Bridge;

~Received report on items sold on recent consignment auction;

~Heard motorgrader training was held in December, for just one day due to snow;

~Heard two culverts had been installed on the Page/Inman road;

~Heard FEMA representatives had conducted additional site inspections;

~Heard the Page north project had been completed Dec. 23, with hopes to reopen the road Dec. 31;

~Approved a $5,986 quote from Thrashers in Omaha, for concrete work to address drainage issues near the courthouse annex;

~Approved a resolution required by state statute and schedule a public hearing for Jan 16, to continue the practice of electing a county surveyor;

~Reapproved a zoning permit on three irregular tracts northeast of O'Neill, previously approved Dec. 16, to correct name of property owners to William A. and Holly B. Drueke, due to sale of the property after application was submitted (was approved under name of former owners, the Oppliger family, according to Pavel); and

~Heard a report from Darby Paxton, Holt County economic development director.


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