Sunday, April 14, 2024

Obligation to keep county offices open

| March 15, 2023 12:00 AM

Dear Mineral County Commission,

I am a former resident and former employee of Mineral County, Montana. My wife and I are current property owners and taxpayers in Mineral County.

We want to take this opportunity to express our appreciation for your efforts as the governing body of Mineral County. Specifically, your efforts of March 3 concerning county policy and procedure and the obligation in keeping county offices open and publicly accessible during business hours (except in the instances of emergencies, of course).

Over the last 22 years, this subject has come up in other Montana public-sector agencies as well. In one example, a former public-sector employee regularly observed a group of fellow employees who would take breaks together, exit their duty stations (leave their job), ascend or descend flights of stairs, exit their building, walk to a designated area, and consume tobacco products/vape/etc.

Taking into account the average "break" parameters in the situation here, it can be conservatively determined that in a single 25-year public employee career, depending on frequency (4-6 in a regular work day) and duration of breaks, the public would have paid approximately 8%-18+% of the employee’s overall regular time roll to take breaks, and in the example at hand, to consume tobacco products.

Consider the following:

Scenario 1: Four breaks at 10 minutes each equals 40 minutes or 8.333% of an 8-hour (480 minute) shift.

Scenario 2: Six breaks at 10 minutes each equals 60 minutes or 12.5% of an 8-hour (480 minute) shift.

Scenario 3: Four breaks at 15 minutes each equals 60 minutes or 12.5 % of an 8-hour (480 minute) shift.

Scenario 4: six breaks at 15 minutes each equals 90 minutes or 18.75% of an 8-hour (480 minute) shift.

Consider: A 40-hour work week X 52 weeks per year equals 2,080 hours per year X 25 years equals 52,000 regular employee hours in a 25-year career.

In this example, conservatively and realistically over a 25-year career with an average of 12.5% of their time roll spent on a [smoke] break, the public sector would pay an employee 52,000 hours X .125 equals 6,500 hours, or 3.125 years just to leave their duty station and consume tobacco products. Even 10% would be 2.5 years!

We honestly do not believe these parameters to be exaggerated or unrealistic considering it is serious enough to warrant discussion. If a public office/service was to be closed and unavailable during this time, that would be 3.125 years that the office(s) and service(s) are not available to the constituency that pays for it and expects availability during

normal business hours. We understand the reality that government does not operate as a business, but where in the private sector would this be acceptable?

Regardless of what an employee chooses to do on their break, whether entitled or not, we see absolutely no problem with the commission addressing the department heads and employees as a group to provide clear and consistent expectations and reiterate the statutory and civil obligations to serve the public by having open and available county services during normal business hours.

We are also aware, as repeated by Commissioner Terrill, this has been addressed before. Furthermore, we are 100% confident that if you had asked for a closed meeting or that the camera be shut off to address this, you would have endured a plethora of unwarranted scrutiny and accusations of not being transparent, etc. ... you can't win.

Commissioner Simons was absolutely justified in bringing this up and Commissioner Terrill articulated the expectations and policy very well.

— John D. Douglas Jr. and Kimberleigh Douglas