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Two department heads vote against employee drug testing

By Jonathan Pleasant
Former Johnson County Mayor Dick Grayson was in attendance at this month’s County Commission meeting to make a special presentation to longtime commission member Emily Millsaps. Commemorating 30 years service, Grayson related to the commission some of his personal experiences with Millsaps, through her extensive career working in the county school system as well as a magistrate and commissioner. In addition to working with the county’s first Head Start program in the early 1960s, Millsaps is possibly best known as a former principal of Mountain City Elementary.
The first female commissioner to hold office in the county, Millsaps has also earned a long track record of working with various civic organizations such as the Johnson County Historical Society. The plaque Grayson presented specifically honored Millsaps for her work on the county board, where Grayson noted she was “a true asset to the citizens of the county, and has wisdom beyond what I could ever achieve.”
Linda Moon with Johnson County’s Alliance of Citizens to Improve Our Neighborhoods Coalition, (A.C.T.I.O.N.) made a presentation to the board to provide information about the group and some of their activities. A.C.T.I.O.N Coalition primarily focuses on local drug use issues and substance abuse, including the overwhelming abuse of pharmaceutical drugs. The group has worked with the local police departments to set up sobriety check points, has held prescription drug disposal events, placed a disposal box at the Sherriff’s department, and most recently mobilized to help shut down the now illegal synthetic drug shop that had moved into the county.
Karen Manuel gave an update concerning the ongoing effort for the county to participate in the state’s Drug Free Workplace Program. Using four types of drug testing, including the testing of new hires, testing for employees under suspicion, testing after an accident, and random testing of safety sensitive positions, the program saves the county five percent on their worker’s compensation insurance and also helps ensure a safer more responsible workplace.
In order to participate in the program and become certified with the state, each individual department head or elected official must also agree to the policy. Last month the commission voted to go ahead with the process, allowing Manuel to collect signatures of approval from each department. In her update, Manuel informed the commission that only two departments had not signed. Both Sherriff Mike Reece and Clerk and Master Linda Morefield have declined to take part in the program. As a result, the commission discussed the best course of action and determined that Mayor Larry Potter should call a meeting to review both Reece’s and Morefield’s concerns.
Following the meeting Reece explained that he was not opposed to drug testing, and actually has a drug policy in place within his department. The sheriff was, however, concerned about some specific issues within the county’s proposed policy. Reece went on to say that he had questions about what specific positions would be considered safety sensitive, and therefore subject to random testing and which positions would not. There were also questions brought up about where funding would come from to cover the testing. The county is currently looking at having the services performed at the Johnson County Community Hospital. Although the money for this expense would potentially come from the discount on the insurance, officials like Mayor Potter have noted that there would still be thousands of dollars in savings even after paying for the testing. However, Sheriff Reece was concerned about where the funding would come from for the initial testing, considering the lengthy process of becoming certified with the state.  One of the options discussed was to create a countywide pool that would incorporate the discount and cover the cost of testing. Reece’s last two concerns dealt with the impact of the testing on his employees. Specifically, the sheriff brought up an issue about paying employees who were tested off duty as well as the county’s policy for employees who tested positively. The state’s program requires that treatment be offered, out of the employee’s pocket, for those who test positively, but the consequences following the test are up to the county. Potentially employees who test positively could be terminated on their first offense, but Johnson County’s policy has a specific set of guidelines that must be followed to do so. According to Reece, his decision not to sign was based on his feelings that some of the details of the county’s policy need to be looked at further.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.