By Kathi Bliss
Although it’s being referred to as a “miscommunication,” a glitch in Caldwell County operating procedure amounted to far more than that, as hundreds of County employees failed to receive their paychecks on Tuesday.
Dozens of employees assembled during a special-called meeting on Tuesday to show solidarity for one another and express their concern, not only over the paycheck debacle, but over the Court’s ongoing discussion about changing the pay schedule to move to a bi-weekly, rather than twice-monthly, pay schedule.
County Judge Kenneth Schawe opened the meeting by offering an apology to employees.
“I take full responsibility for it,” he said. “There was a communication error, and it won’t happen again.”
Arriving a bit late to the meeting, Commissioner Joe Roland offered a barbed apology for his tardiness.
“Today was the last day to pay property taxes, and I was counting on my paycheck to do that,” he said. “So I had to move some money around and do some things to get my taxes paid. And if I had to do that, I know that our employees had to do other things, because we know that so many of them do live paycheck-to-paycheck.”
The meeting itself was slated as a workshop to give the Commissioners the opportunity to address concerns about pay periods and timesheets. Under the current system, county employees are paid on the 15th and 30th of each month. However, because of the time needed to process payroll, that means that employees turn in timesheets for time they have not yet worked, occasionally leading to the need for corrections.
“We’re not here to take anything away from anyone,” Schawe said. “We’re here trying to improve the procedures. We know that our employees are the county’s greatest asset.”
Unit Road Administrator Donald LeClerc spoke strongly against changing the existing pay schedule.
“Whether we have 24 or 26 paychecks, that’s separate from the issue of how the timesheets are processed,” he said. “But if we move to 26 paychecks, that’s taking money out of our checks, even if there are going to be certain months when we get three checks.”
LeClerc reminded the Commissioner that county employees took a hit on their paychecks in October, when insurance rates were raised; he also pointed out that those raised insurance premiums come with increased deductibles and copays.
“A lot of these folks are living check-to-check, and many are single income households,” he cautioned. “Now, you’re wanting to reduce their monthly checks again by moving from 24 to 26 checks a year.”
Sheriff Daniel Law offered a simpler opinion on the matter.
“Enough is enough.”
Law told the Commissioners the same thing he says every budget cycle, that most County departments are already understaffed, and because of that, there are certain things that the employees do not hold as priorities.
“Yes, the timesheets are important, but when we’re all wearing 900 different hats trying to get the job done, things are going to fall through the cracks,” he said.
While Law did not object outright to changing the pay schedule, he did come to the employee’s defense on the paycheck debacle.
“It was the last day to pay taxes, and the banks cut off changing [automatic] drafts at 4 p.m.,” he said. “It was after 4:30 when we found out about this, so people weren’t able to get with the bank and make those changes. That means there will be late pay fees, and insufficient funds fees, and now we’re scrambling to catch up again. This was a County mistake, and the County should be swallowing it. Now, once again, we’re making the employees swallow it.”
Both County Treasurer Lori Rangel and County Auditor Debra French also spoke, both apologizing for the situation, and inviting the employees to visit their office and discuss the matter. However, while French said she had pulled the documentation to demonstrate the timeline of the breakdown, neither offered a public explanation; instead, they both said they would be working to ensure it never happened again.
There was very little substantive discussion of the actual items on the agenda, with the Commissioners instead deciding to form committees to discuss the possibility of changing employee pay schedules and to discuss electronic timekeeping.
They also approved the hiring of Robert Bush as the County’s new Human Resources Coordinator. Bush will work with the committees to address the pay-schedule and timekeeping issues.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court routinely meets on the second and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the second floor courtroom of the Caldwell County Courthouse. The meetings are open to the public and available for online viewing at www.co.caldwell.tx.us.