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Judge scolds magistrates over personnel

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By Lisa King

Two fiscal court magistrates have been questioned about statements that were made at a recent public meeting which the county judge-executive deemed inappropriate.

At Tuesday night's fiscal court meeting, Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger asked Allen Ruble and Cordy Armstrong about a comment that was made at an Emergency Medical Services Committee meeting May 15 concerning a personnel issue.

Magistrate Betty Curtsinger, who is chairperson of that committee, had submitted the minutes of the meeting to Rothenburger, with the comment in question included in the transcription.

The comment centered around a discussion of possible ways to fund the position of deputy emergency services director, a position that has not yet been filled. The minutes of the meeting stated that "Magistrate Cordy Armstrong and Magistrate Allen Ruble were in agreement that their recommendation would be to do away with the position of Gail Renfro, human resources, and use this funding for the position of deputy chief director. Magistrate Ruble stated, 'Fire Gail and hire Jeff.'"

At Tuesday's meeting, Rothenburger asked Ruble,"Is that an accurate statement that's in here -- fire Gail and hire Jeff?"

Ruble answered that he didn't think he made that statement. When Curtsinger assured him that he did, he apologized.

"I will apologize to anybody if I did actually say that. You said I did," he replied.

Although Armstrong did not make the comment recorded in the minutes, he was included in the questioning because the minutes of the EMS meeting said that both Armstrong and Ruble stated that there were other positions within county government that were not needed as badly as deputy chief director, such as the human resources position.

When Rothenburger asked Ruble if he really felt that way, Ruble said, "As far as importance to me, the deputy position is more important than some other positions."

"More important than human resources director?" the judge asked.

"We needed it," Ruble said.

Rothenburger then told the pair that it was not the job of the magistrates to decide who gets hired or fired.

"That's the reason why we have a human resources department," he said. "You all should let human resources handle human resources and you all do your jobs as magistrates."

Rothenburger's second issue with the incident was the fact that the hiring process for the position of deputy director may have been compromised.

"When names are named, it prejudices the hiring process," Rothenburger told The Sentinel-News. "People want to feel like they have a chance of getting the job. You just can't bring someone's name into it because it creates a potential for legal liabilities against the county. What's worse, they have now dragged a third party into it and that's totally inappropriate. Number one, I'm appalled they came up with the idea in the first place, and number two, they have already been warned by legal counsel."

Shelby County Attorney Hart Megibben said he agrees with Rothenburger.

"If a favorable position's been expressed prior to the hiring process, other potential candidates may feel like they've been slighted or not given due consideration," he said.

Humiliating

Ivers, who is one of the half-dozen candidates who has applied for the $70,000 a year position, has been with EMS for the past 19 years, and a captain since 1992.

He said the incident has humiliated him.

"The worst thing is that now my name's out there, and that's embarrassing to me to get my name slapped. It's embarrassing to me and my family, " he said.

Gail Renfro, human resources director for the county for the past five years, said she is aware that "they are going to say what they want to say."

"They have on a number of occasions failed to follow the administrative code that they enacted themselves, she said."

Steve Wortham, chief of operations for Shelby County EMS, said the incident never should have happened.

"His [Ivers}name came up at a public meeting and it shouldn't have, and now it's all blown out of proportion," he said. "I would like to go on record as saying that I think human resources is very important and that I would in no way want to take away her [Renfro] job."

Rothenburger said the position of deputy director was vacated last year and was not filled right away.

"The position was left open for a while to save money because of an economic downturn which proved beneficial at that time," he said.

After it was decided the position was needed, "it was necessary to start looking for funding," according to Wortham, the factor that sparked the comment at the EMS meeting.

Ruble pointed out to Rothenburger Tuesday night that he and Armstrong had proposed another source of funding for the position other than firing the human resources director.

"That's correct, and I'm glad that you all did and I think you've done an excellent job on that," Rothenburger admitted to them in the midst of the chastisement.

The magistrates had simply increased the allotment for EMS expenditures in the budget, which will cover the salary for the position, Rothenburger said.

Ruble told The Sentinel-News that since the incident concerned a personnel issue, he was limited in what he could say to the press.

"But I will say that being on the EMS committee, our job is to ensure that there is adequate personnel and equipment for them to perform their duties," he said.

Armstrong made the following statement to the press:

"In talking with the director of EMS, it was his decision, in running his department, that he would like another employee, already working at EMS, to be deputy director and help EMS with the duties of its everyday operations. If presenting this to the court was wrong, the EMS Committee was unintentionally in error.

"EMS is a very important county service and the committee was only trying to help improve its effectiveness in saving lives of anyone who may need their services. I was surprised to see EMS Committee minutes being presented to the court that had not been approved to be correct or not. I cannot remember minutes from committee meetings being taken and presented to the court in written form before.

"I think it was inappropriate for a magistrate to present unapproved minutes and the judge- executive to take unapproved minutes and make issue with them in open court before they had been approved for correctness. I am aware of other committee meetings in the past few months being held, where the county judge-executive made comments about a county employee and this was not brought up in open court in written minute form. I look forward to the day that this fiscal court can get this behind us and work on making Shelby County one of the premier counties in Kentucky."