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Originally published: 2012-09-13 13:34:37
Last modified: 2012-09-13 13:34:37

Commissioners discuss construction, sick leave and medical director

Matthew Hundley / (

Avery County Board of Commissioners met on Tuesday, Sept. 4, at a meeting rescheduled to accommodate Labor Day, which fell on the board’s typical meeting day. 

Courthouse construction update
County Manager Robert Wiseman reported that bidding for the next construction phase in the courthouse renovation efforts should begin near the end of the year, allowing construction to begin by the end of February. According to Wiseman, some preliminary work may need to be done to the smaller courtroom, in order to allow the shuffling of services that the new construction will require. According to Wiseman, the carpet and padded seats in the smaller courtroom proved to be a bad decision, and one that would need to be remedied before the room could host court session.

“Fabric in a courtroom is high maintenance,” said Wiseman. “It is just a matter of time until it gets wear and tear, or somebody rips it because their son has just been sentenced to prison.”

If the logistical quagmire inherent in relocating the clerk of court can be managed, the renovations could be complete by the end of 2013, said Wiseman. “If it all goes well and we can issue the notice to proceed to the successful bidder in January, it could be done by next December.”

The board voted to hire MB Kahn to serve as construction management representative for the project.

“It is crucial that construction management be on hand from the beginning. If we are going to work with a construction management firm, they need to be on board now, or we miss the boat,” said Wiseman, who also explained the function of construction management. “To insure that the contractors and subcontractors are providing the quality of work that we are expecting out of them.”

Several commissioners commented on the value of construction management, and the benefits that MB Kahn provided when the county brought them in on the Banner Elk Elementary School project. 

“Even though we did bring them on late in the game, I think they showed that it was money well spent in the things that they caught,” Commissioner Glenn Johnson said.

Commissioner Martha Hicks noted that it would be even more important to have the management team on the courthouse project because of the age of the building.

“I think it is important because we are working with a building here that we don’t know what we’re going to run into” said Hicks.

Shared sick leave

The commissioners also followed up on the personnel issue of additional donated leave for Sheila Thomas, who has been out of work for several weeks as a result of a brain aneurysm. The current policy states that no county employee may receive more than 40 hours of donated sick leave, a policy that was put in place after past employees abused the previous, unregulated system. 

The commissioners and County Attorney Michaelle Poore stated their opinion that suspending the policy for Thomas alone would be a mistake.

“If you suspend the policy, and say for this once exception we are going to suspend the rules, go over and above and let people donate their accrued time. However, we are opening the door for a precedent that may come back to bite you,” said Wiseman, “There could be potential legal liability for discrimination if you deny someone else’s request.”

Poore echoed Wiseman’s concern.

“I do not recommend making a change for one employee,” said Poore.

Johnson raised concerns about the prospect of donating sick leave at all. 

“You are entitled to sick leave when you are sick,” said Johnson, who added that donating annual leave would be more appropriate.

“Donating sick leave is a dangerous policy. It really does open up a can of worms,” said Johnson.”

Commissioner Phyllis Forbes disagreed with Johnson’s objection to shared sick leave, but did agree with the problems inherent in making individual exceptions. 

“What we have in place has worked for a long time. We stir up a can of worms if we make exceptions,” Forbes said.

Commissioners Hicks and Scott Heath echoed the need to make whole policy changes, rather than individual exceptions.”

“We have to look at it over the whole county,” said Hicks. “You make a policy and you stick with it in the books until you decide to redo the whole thing again.”

“You change the whole policy. Maybe what we need to do is review the policy and see what is appropriate given the two example we have seen at either end of the spectrum,” said Heath noting the two examples of the abusive former employees and Thomas’ current situation.

The commissioners agreed to review the policy and the ramifications of changing it on a county-wide scale.

Pay for county medical emergency director

Avery County Board of Commissioners approved a budget amendment to provide $6,000 in annual compensation for the position of medical emergency director, who must be a licensed physician who signs off on the county’s emergency medical plan and all the certification of all controlled substances issued by emergency medical services. Because of the high responsibility and liability of such a position, the board voted unanimously to provide the the county’s medical emergency director with a small salary. 

“I think it is very reasonable,” said Jerry Turbyfill, director of emergency medical services for the county. “We probably are one of the only counties around that does not have a paid medical director.” Turbyfill, who also noted that the decision would save money over not having such a director, which would mean that emergency services could not administer many drugs or perform some procedures, instead taking all victims to the emergency room and incurring the related fees. 

“It seems like it still a pretty good deal to me, for someone to take on this responsibility for that amount of money,” Hicks said.