Cox eyes county's hiring practices

York County Councilman Joe Cox claims the county's hiring practices are unfair to people who aren't part of what he calls the "good ol' boy network."

Cox is trying to convince county leaders to change York County's hiring policy from a system that empowers department heads to choose who they hire to one that puts that authority in the hands of a human resources staffer.

"We give a lot of leeway to our department heads, which plays a little bit to the good ol' boy network: If you know me, you're going to get hired," Cox told fellow leaders at a meeting this month. "I would like to see us somehow get away from that."

Some council members, however, disagree with Cox's allegations.

"He's misinformed on that," Council Chairman Buddy Motz said. "If you go back 10, 15, 20 years ago, then yes, I would say that was probably true."

But, Motz said, York County's hiring practices have evolved into a fair system.

Cox contends that's not so. He argues that people who aren't from the area or don't have connections to a department head or council member have a difficult time getting a county job.

He even said some council members have worked to get unqualified relatives positions with the county, and "there are people in place that do not need to be where they're at."

"All I want to do is take the politics out of it," he said. "Comments like, 'My friend, whoever it might be, department head, does not need to be said at our table."

Cox refused to provide the names of those who have received jobs he claims they didn't earn or identify the leaders who helped them land those positions.

"He can't (name names)," Motz said, "because we don't do it."

Motz also said the county's hiring policies have become more refined since county manager Jim Baker was hired last year.

One policy Baker changed after he arrived dealt with the advertising of county jobs.

Prior to Baker, the practice was to list a job along with a deadline for applications. But if the staff liked a candidate who applied before the deadline, that person would often get hired even though the county was still supposed to be accepting resumes.

Baker said that concerned him, because the county should look at all applicants. Now, the policy is no hiring until the advertised deadline has passed.

Cox wants his fellow leaders to consider a system that gives hiring authority to one person who answers to the council.

But Motz and Councilman Rick Lee contend that hiring should stay with the department heads.

In the private sector, Lee said, the human resources department typically advertises positions, collects resumes and sets up interviews, but the supervisor does the hiring.

Lee said the county's hiring system has worked well over the years and the county has a low employee-to-resident ratio.

"Before we start throwing something out and undoing what has been very successful, let's make sure we have a clear target and we don't create a problem that may not exist," he said. "My first thought was 100 grand getting ready to go out the door here."

Baker said the county staff is considering asking the council to expand the human resources department so it can play a greater role in the hiring process, though not to the extent Cox wants.

The staff has talked about HR screening applications, while the final hiring decision would still be left up to the department head. This proposal, Baker said, isn't because the county is doing anything wrong. Rather, he said, a process such as this ensures the county consistently hires the best candidates and remains mindful of staff diversity.

The county's human resources department doesn't have a large enough staff to do that now, Baker said, and any new positions won't be addressed until the next budget is prepared.

Both proposals have a similar opponent: Councilman Curwood Chappell, who said the county shouldn't create any positions.

"Why does this county government have to become a bureaucracy and keep increasing in labor force?" Chappell asked. "It's no time for anybody to be hired on this county government when my taxpayers are struggling to buy bread and medicine."

The county has about 1,000 employees.