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Magistrates to update county operation manuals

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By Calen McKinney

Magistrates will soon be asked to update the county's how-to book to running Taylor County government.

Taylor County Fiscal Court operates with two manuals that describe how county government is to run in Taylor County.

One, an employee policy and procedure manual last updated in 2011, tells all county employees how they should behave on the job and what is expected of them.

The other manual, an administrative code, spells out how county government is to function, including the various policies elected officials are to abide by and how the county's budget is to be prepared. That code was last updated in 2002.

Last Monday, the court's Budgets, Audits and Personnel Committee met to discuss changes to the administrative code that have been discussed and in the works for more than a year.

County Attorney John Bertram, County Treasurer Melissa Williams, Magistrate John Gaines and Debbie McNear, who serves as Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers' executive secretary, attended the meeting. Magistrate James Jones, who also serves on the committee, and Rogers were unable to attend.

Gaines said he has depended on Williams and Bertram to guide the group through the process of updating the administrative codes.

"As Melissa said, we just want to make sure we are legal," he said.

Williams said she and McNear used the county's current code and a sample one from the state's Department of Local Government to create an updated version.

Some information was excluded, she said, such as county employee job descriptions and outdated policies.

Bertram said it's important to know the code can be updated at any time, should the need for a revision arise. He said documentation to show that the code has been reviewed each year is also essential.

And the group said having an updated code can help answer questions from residents about how the county operates.

"And we have those questions quite often," Williams said.

There are several new pieces of information added to the code, she said, including a code of ethics policy, a funding policy that spells out how items are purchased with county money and more.

Williams said each county department has copies of the county employee policy and procedure manual. Each employee is responsible for signing it and acknowledging that he or she has read the information.

Each department is also to abide by the county's administrative code or have created their own. But she said she isn't sure if that is being done.

Williams said the county's "fee" offices that operate on money collected from taxes residents pay, such as County Clerk Mark Carney's and Taylor County Sheriff Allen Newton's, could have their own administrative codes. She said those offices might operate differently than other county departments and, as such, could need different codes to follow.

However, Williams said, those other departments might not have their own codes and also might not be following the county's.

Gaines asked if all offices are to follow the county's codes if they don't have their own specific manual. Williams said they are.

And, she said, the code manual states that if a department has its own codes manual, magistrates are to approve it before it is used.

Bertram suggested writing a letter to each department asking what codes manual they use and, if they have their own, stating that it must be approved.

If that is the case, he said, the county might not be held liable if some issue arises that is eventually taken to civil court.

Bertram said there should be a clear paper trail between the county and its departments and employees acknowledging that those employees are following the county's policies and procedures and an administrative code.

"You can't have too many policies, I've sort of found," Williams said.

After the meeting, she said the county's administrative code is reviewed each year, though it hasn't been formally updated since 2002. She said the new code will likely be submitted to magistrates at their next meeting for discussion and approval.

Magistrates will meet Tuesday, Dec. 10, at 6 p.m. at the Taylor County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public.