The County Council was not pleased with Councilwoman Heather Post's decision to independently host a roundtable discussion for the public about the county's fire services and emergency medical services, which she announced during her final comments at the County Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 7.
Councilwoman At-Large Joyce Cusack immediately questioned her about the meeting and Post replied that she is interested in hearing fire and EMS personnel's opinion about how things are run, as she has been presented with many concerns on the matter. County Council Chair Ed Kelley said it was "disconcerting to him" for a person to want to meet with employees on matters of better wages, and working conditions. Post countered that it wasn't about that.
Councilwoman Billie Wheeler said she gets lots of similar calls, but that she tells them she is working with staff and that she will pass on their concerns.
"Any of those discussions, I feel, should be handled here in front of the council," Wheeler said.
Post said she would be doing the same thing with this discussion and that it would not negate the work the council performs. Kelley wondered about the legality of it all.
Deputy county attorney Charles Hargrove said conducting a roundtable discussion is legal as long as Post does not address contract negotiation. She will have to shut those conversations down. He warned that sometimes individuals will try to engage in an indirect matter for these topics, and that she'll have to be on the lookout for that.
He also said employees have a First Amendment right to speak about their concerns.
Cusack said she didn't want to stifle relationships between a council member and his or her constituents, but she was concerned that Post will be meeting with employees when they are under the responsibility to hire a new county manager. She said it teetered on "micromanaging" staff.
"How do you have the expertise and knowledge to know what is and what is not teetering on negotiations?" Cusack said. "I just think that for you as a council member and for them as employees, you're opening up yourself and our employees up to an area that is not your responsibility."
Kelley said they couldn't stop her from conducting the meeting, but that they are warning her of possible ethical and legal consequences if she oversteps into negotiations.
"I'm not promising anything," Post said. "I'm simply listening to the concerns."