[Editor's Note: This is part 5 of a multi-part series on the work and regular commission meetings of April 16 and 18, 2019.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
The Grant County Commission continued its five-hour work session on April 16, 2019 with discussions on the county employee application process and a presentation on Bataan Park.
Commissioner Javier Salas had asked for the item on the employment application to be placed on the agenda. "I want to put somethings before you for discussion in the future. I want updates on all job description to match the way the jobs are being done now. I also think all positions within the county should be presented in house first for current employees to be considered for advancement or change to another position. I think it should be done by a committee to develop a standardized data process. There can be a rating system to choose a new employee for a department or promotion. We should keep all the outcome data from the choosing of the applicant, so we clearly see why the choice was made. Do it in house before advertising in outside postings."
"I think it would help morale," Salas continued. I did talk to Abby (County Attorney Abigail Burgess) and she said it might require a policy change to the employee manual. Union positions all go in house first, but I want non-union ones to go in house and out at the same time. Anyone can apply."
Commissioner Billy Billings said what Salas had laid out was basically what the county does now.
"More often than not, we do advertise in house first and then out," County Manager Charlene Webb said. "And sometimes in and out at the same time for non-union positions. Renae (Calloway, Human Resources) has outlined our processes and they are similar to what Commission Salas just said. Once I'm through proofing the changes, I will send the policy document to you."
Commission Chairman Chris Ponce said the union positions are negotiated by contract. "We could change the policy for non-union to seven days in house and then out."
Burgess said the county generally does it that way, but it has the option to do both at the same time.
Salas emphasized that he wanted the job descriptions.
Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked: "Didn't we do that last year when we were developing the new salary structure?"
"We took each job description, reviewed them, and did a market analysis to compare similar positions," Webb said. "It was a year-long process. We approved it in 2018. We contracted an outside person to develop it."
Salas said he wants the application process to be transparent. "I don't want it to appear that a description was tailored to fit a certain person."
Commissioner Harry Browne, who was attending by telephone, said he wanted to add his two bits. "On the point of requiring a position be advertised in house first, it could be unwise, because it might offer an advantage to someone who knows everything, when what is needed is new ideas, especially in the case of department heads. I would want to know the full range of applicants. My initial reaction is not to restrict to in-house first."
Ponce said supervisors or department heads wear different hats. "It should be their responsibility to develop those under them and maybe help them to progress in their career. Yes, take a look internally, but also develop internally."
Edwards said she could see both sides. "Yes, the department heads should develop their employees, but the county has the responsibility to hire the most qualified person possible. How do we know what's available if we don't advertise outside? I can think of one example—the airport manager. I don't know if there was anyone qualified in house, but she came from outside. She is doing a great job and the county is no longer subsidizing the airport. How do we know what's possible if we don't look outside?"
Salas also gave an example. "What about a job description for a maintenance manager? A person who comes in with a business degree may do a great job, but what if there's an in-house person that fits the job description but doesn't get the job?"
Ponce said the taxpayers "expect us to hire the best candidate. We also expect the managers to develop their employees."
Salas said employees should be encouraged to have aspirations, to work harder and better to get promotions.
Treasurer Steve Armendariz said, "just in clarification. Ms. Edwards, you were new, but the discussion on the evaluation and salary compensation was taking place. Several of us complained that there was a rush to approve when we felt that our input was not heard or listened to. We submitted stuff to request changes. It was stated that it would be reviewed within a year. It's past a year and it hasn't been reviewed. We requested job descriptions in our department. They said they would be coming, but they never came out. I have requested changes and there are no changes. The worst classifications were the ones that weren't listed as senior positions. The union said it had no problem. I have been requesting additional employees. I did get a permanent seasonal employee that was only entry-level and should be listed as no longer than nine months. I have requested specific time periods when I need the seasonal employee. We don't understand why the changes haven't been made or reviewed."
Edwards thanked him for the history lesson. "Maybe the thing to do is the review. I can see that any document may not be perfect and needs review."
"When we went through the process," Webb said, "the contractor worked with each department. We compared county positions with other counties. Mr. Treasurer, we did change your positions to senior ones. We provided the pre-qualification details (PQD) to department heads who disagreed. We don't do a market review every year. Renae and I will look at this again. I will get the document to the new commissioners. That was my oversight. We will do the best we can."
Edwards suggested the department heads had the PQD and if the entities have positions they feel don't fit, they fill out a form by a deadline.
Salas said: "If a person had the skills fine. If not, go outside."
Edwards said the crux was an accurate job description and an aligned job search. "Everyone has to participate and create an accurate job description."
Ponce said he would like to see the review, but maybe internally rather than with a contractor.
"I think it will be clearer to you when you see the document," Webb said. "I don't think we can get this done before the budget process."
The next discussion item was a presentation by Rob Price of ASA Architects.
He brought a map of the park. "I'm here to speak about accessibility in the park. My primary focus was the pavilion building. I did about a 30-minute walk-through of the structure and the park. You have plenty of accessible parking and posting of signage. But the first challenge is getting to the building. If a person has accessibility issues, that person can't park and get to the building. The slope cannot be greater than 1-in-20 without handrails or greater than 1-in-12 with handrails for ADA compliance. The path is steeper than either of those standards. A wheelchair cannot get to the pavilion. You can provide access by vehicle, but there's no place to park next to the pavilion. You need a couple of accessible parking places next to the building. Both entries have a stoop that is way too high for a wheelchair to get across. You could put in a ramp for one or the other entry; one on the back side of the building is probably the best."
He said paths that are longer than 30-feet need to have a resting spot because people driving a wheelchair with their arms get tired after 30 feet.
He said the counter in the kitchen of the pavilion is more than 3-feet high. For accessibility, 2-feet 10 inches is the standard. "The sink portion could be made lower. However, taking it all out and replacing the counter, sink and all would be cheaper. The women's restroom seemed accessible. I had no measuring tools with me. I was just eyeballing it. You would need to reverse the swing of the door. The men's restroom complied, with the exception of the sink. For just the pavilion, if you're going to rent it to the public, it needs to be accessible. It's a civil rights issue."
Salas had two questions. The first was about the slope that is more than 1-in-12. The second question asked if the facility would need to be inspected and certified.
"I would be careful not to get them involved too soon," Price said. "You would go through the Las Cruces office of the Construction Industries Division. They would inspect it after construction. The sidewalk is too steep. To lower the ratio, you would have to cut in further and it would be longer than it is now. But there is not enough room to do that. The most beneficial would be a ramp and handrails. It is a wide sidewalk."
Billings asked if the sidewalk could be a driveway, to which Price said it could, but then it would require parking.
Price also talked about the three fields. "There really should be accessible routes to all functions. None of the paths are roll-in friendly. They are all too steep. The paths around the memorial seem to be accessible. You need surveys done and the paths measured to determine potential costs. The concession stand is not accessible and there are no handrails. The serving side counter, at least one part of it, should be 2-feet 10 inches high. The restrooms connected to the concession stand seem to be accessible except for the mirror over the sink which needs to be raised."
He said the three ballfields have major challenges. "Are they always used as ball fields?"
Salas said the fields host lots of tournaments and lots of practices.
Price said in recreational facilities there should always be at least one place to park a wheelchair and the dugouts should be made accessible with a place to park a wheelchair. "You could mitigate by trying to have parking places by the field, because the paths are not accessible. The paths need a comprehensive survey other than my eyeballs."
Edwards asked about the 30 feet of path and then a flat place to rest. "Would it be better to make it drive in?"
Prices said he thought so.
Edwards also asked if the county could make one ballfield accessible this year and then phase it.
"Yes, I understand phasing, and I think so," Price said. "If you're working toward correcting the non-compliance, that's good. Once this one's done, then the others are not as much of a problem, although the quicker you can get to them, the better. There may be an opportunity for relief because it is existing.
"Also, in addition to the steepness of the paths, you can't cross a slope," Price said. "The path has to be flat. But, accessible paths cause drainage problems inherently because they're flat."
Billings said it was great that Price had brought them the information. "We have to get direction and get input from management before we can do anything."
Edwards said she understood the best-case scenario would be to do it all at one time. "Can you give us an estimate?"
Price said the pavilion can probably be done for $50,000 to $100,000. "Right now, costs in construction are facing 30 percent to 40 percent increases. It's very volatile. This project is a million-dollar kind of thing. I'm guessing $850,000 to $1.1 million for all of it. It needs a survey. You're not going to fix it for $75,000."
Edwards asked if the cost was the same whether it was a walk-in or drive-in facility, and Price said, yes. "Even if it's drive-in and you're sitting at the field, you would have to drive to the concession stand, and that's not convenient. It wasn't built with these ADA things in mind. How old is it?"
County Assessor Raul Turrieta said the project started in 1997. "First there was a ballfield, then the county added some others one at a time."
General Services Director Randy Villa said the project was phased. "It was nickel-and-dimed. It was a $5 million project, with $250,000 in capital outlay at a time. Then we saved enough to do some more, but the state came and took it away from us. It was a vision, without the money at the same time."
Price said it was built a piece at a time. "We've progressed since the 1980s. When the ADA was developed in the 1990s, the ADA was not in line with what we're talking about now. It's not really OK. There are some challenges. We would need to tear out more path than you have to get the slopes right. But you don't have to tear down and start over. You have to understand that you will have drainage issues."
The commissioners thanked Price for his input and said they would continue the discussion.
The next article will get into the review of the regular meeting agenda at the work session and the decisions made at the regular session.