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Commissioners still looking at drug testing for county employees

Karen Manuel presented information from the recent safety meeting held on September 5th to the full Johnson County County Commission at their meeting last Thursday night. After speaking with Marc Fogarty, a representative from the county’s insurance company, Manual gave details concerning the potential adoption of a drug free work place policy. By becoming certified with the state’s drug free workplace program, the county would not only help improve safety and accountability for its employees, but would also be able to take advantage of a five percent discount amounting to more than $6000.
The program utilizes four types of drug and alcohol testing, with pre-employment, suspicion, and post-accident being required of all departments, and random testing being conducted in safety sensitive areas. These randomly tested positions would be determined by the county’s specific policy, but would typically include all jobs requiring an employee to operate a vehicle, including the highway department and transfer station, which already do the testing, as well as the sheriff’s department and Emergency Management Service, among others.
According to Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter, the first step to participating in the program is for the county commission to agree to begin the process. After that, each department head or elected official must also sign and agree to participate. Without full compliance from all departments the county can go no farther. However, if each department does agree to proceed, the county would then finalize any changes in the proposed policy and would submit to the state an application to be certified in the program. The state would then send a response to the insurance company who provides the discount.
The commission discussed the issue briefly last month, but there were still a few issues to be addressed this month as well. Commissioner Mike Taylor brought up one of the bigger debates on the subject, questioning whether or not elected officials would also be tested. Taylor went on to say that as representatives of the people, elected officials should be held to the same standards as the employees and should also be required to participate. Although county officials are not specifically required to be enrolled in the program, the county’s proposed policy would currently test anyone on the county payroll, theoretically including elected positions as well.
This and other questions, such as severity of the consequences for testing negatively, could arise later, but the county does have the option to amend the policy once it has passed. The primary concern that many officials had was whether or not to approve the proposed policy so that the issue could then go to the elected officials and department heads for their approval. With no serious concerns about its general purpose or implementation, Commissioner Mike Taylor made the motion to approve the county’s adoption and participation in the Drug Free Workplace program, and was seconded by Commissioner Jimmy Lowe. With a unanimous approval, Manuel can now begin the process of asking all the county’s various departments to also agree, with the exception of the school system, which will not be affected.
Gary Farley, the director of contract inspection services with the state’s fire marshall’s office, made a presentation to the commission highlighting Tennessee’s building code incentive program. Having opted out of the program when it was first initiated two years ago, Farley highlighted the potential benefits of adopting building codes in Johnson County. The county has three options concerning the program: utilize state permits and inspections, hire an inspector and perform its own inspections, or opt out as it did originally.
The issue won’t actually require a vote until after the next election, but Farley also made a point to inform the commission that it can opt into the program at any time, through a two-thirds majority vote. If the county chose to use state inspectors, it would receive $15 for each permit, but as several commissioners pointed out, with the slow economy this would generate only minimal revenue.
Further concerns were also voiced about the cost of the permits, which range from $300 to $500 along with a potential $100 slab fee. This cost goes to cover three separate inspections, one for the foundation, one for rough-in framing and insulation, and the last as a final inspection. Farley noted that the inspectors follow the International Residential Code, and only new homes and additions to existing homes would require inspection.
The county would also have to follow similar standards if it chose to hire its own inspector or continue to remain opted-out with no inspections. Farley went on to explain that the state also offers grant incentives for counties and cities that do participate in the program. No direct action was taken but several commissioners did voice concerns about the program’s track record with surrounding counties like Carter County having numerous problems with its implementation. Liability issues, troubles with inspectors, and the addition of constraints on an already limited number of new building projects in the county were just some of the many issues that were brought up. With no motion otherwise, the county will currently remain opted-out of the program, but must vote on the issue again within 180 days of the 2014 election.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.