Editorial: changes coming to the way the county operates
Jon Caime had no sooner unpacked his briefcase in the new Laurens County’s administrator’s office when County Council told him to take a look at the way the county does business. There were to be no sacred cows. We imagine Caime is going to soon wonder just what he did to make his new bosses angry with him. In doing what he was instructed to do, Caime has stirred up more than a few hornet’s nests. “We’ve always done it that way” is no longer an acceptable answer to the question, “Why are we doing this?” The administrator has made some administrative changes – how and when the county pays its bills is one – he has the authority to do without council approval. Other changes, if they are made, will require a council vote to approve. Caime has asked council to consider reducing the lunch “hour” for county employees from 60 minutes to 30 minutes. Council Chairman Joe Wood said on the radio last week that if county workers feels a burning need to take an hour for lunch, they will begin their workday at 8:30 a.m. rather than the current start time of 9. It was reported Caime believes the change will save the county $250,000 a year. He said this is an efficiency issue. Working more minutes in the middle of the day increases efficiency (as opposed to 30 more minutes at the end of the day when people are tired). A 9-5 workday with 30 minutes for lunch is 37.5 hours a week, on par with what private business classifies as a full week. The administrator said the county can save $40,000 a year by reducing the number of paid holidays for new employees. Not all the changes proposed would qualify Caime as Scrooge. He wants county employees to receive a 1.4% raise every year rather than a 3.5% raise every five years, which is what just happened. And then there’s the biggie: Caime has said the county can no longer afford to offer lifetime health insurance to county workers who leave after 28 years. The proposal would not affect any of the 35 current retirees who have free health insurance for life courtesy of county taxpayers (and that number is growing by at least three come Jan. 1). The change will be for any new employees hired by the county, council agreed at its Dec. 13 meeting. Free health insurance for all retirees with at least 28 years of county service is an amazing benefit. It’s been one of the key selling points to hire and retain quality workers. But few if any private business or industry offers such a benefit. And with the cost of health insurance spiraling out of control, the cost to the county is only going to increase. Chairman Wood said no one knows for sure when the county began paying health insurance for retirees and no one can find where council took a vote authorizing the benefit. He said on the radio last week that he thinks the benefit predates former Administrator Ernie Segars, who came to work for the county almost three decades ago. There is little doubt that Caime has detractors in the halls of county government because of his comprehensive look at “the way we’ve always done things.” We’re not sure how much support Caime will receive on council. There will probably be spirited discussion and 4-3 votes. At the Dec. 13 meeting, council split 4-3 on a Caime recommendation to “brand” the county to attract or keep younger residents. But these discussions and these votes are what we expect from our elected officials. And making the unpopular recommendations are what they should expect from those they hire to run the county every day. Council must be willing to make decisions, live with the consequences, and move on.