New Rules Rile County Employees In Charles

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 4, 2007

Charles County's commissioners received mixed reactions from government employees after announcing an extensive series of changes to workplace policies last week.

During the commissioners' televised session Wednesday, more than 20 employees sat in the meeting room to protest the changes that had been announced the day before. Among the revisions were the elimination of policies that allowed employees to shorten the workweek by compressing their hours into fewer days, to drive county vehicles after-hours and to dress casually on Fridays.

Those were among 22 changes to the county government's structure and standards that the commissioners unveiled last week in an effort to streamline operations, modernize practices and cut costs. But the first restructuring of county government in more than two decades was met with hostility among some county workers.

"It's frankly been a mixed bag," county spokeswoman Nina Voehl said of employee reaction. "Some didn't see any problem with it, some had a lot of problems with it. I guess that's what happens when you have change."

Commissioners President Wayne Cooper (D-At Large) said the commissioners are taking the complaints seriously. He said the unrest stems in part from misinformation.

"Once you try to explain to them what we're trying to do, I think they're a lot more receptive," Cooper said.

The commissioners announced the changes Tuesday afternoon during their regular meeting and minutes later in a news conference with reporters. They did not circulate a memorandum explaining the changes to employees until the next day, officials said.

In between, rumors flew around the county government buildings in La Plata.

The gossip grew so intense, Cooper said, that some employees believed the commissioners had announced that they were not giving workers a raise this year.

But the commissioners never mentioned compensation in their announcement. Cooper said the commissioners will consider raising employees' annual pay, but they will not decide definitively until the fiscal 2008 budget is set, probably late this spring.

"Sometimes changes are very difficult for people to deal with," Cooper said. "I'm hoping this will settle down."

Details of the changes were held close to the vest by the commissioners, leaving even some department heads in the dark until the public announcement.

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