Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Welcome to Odoriferous Kootenai County

In a Saturday, May 7, 2005, story headlined Source: Grubbs payoff soared, Coeur d'Alene Press staff writer Dave Turner has shed a little more light on the stench-laden deal between the Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners and former Sheriff's Department Captain Sam Grubbs. We need to rely on our smell, because the County Commissioners signed a deal that may forever hide from the light of day the reasons for Grubbs' departure. I've outlined the basics of this mess in my April 11, 2005, blog post.

Turner's Press article today states that Grubbs threatened to sue Kootenai County for wrongful termination. Though Grubbs purportedly resigned voluntarily, a court might well find that his termination was wrongful if the resignation had been coerced. That Kootenai County's insurance carrier, the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program (ICRMP), was willing to discuss paying Grubbs to leave quietly suggests two possibilities:
  1. The payout to Grubbs would be less costly than the cost of defending against his lawsuit. That would be particularly true if ICRMP felt that Grubbs would prevail in the lawsuit.
  2. Kootenai County, specifically the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department, had inadequately documented what it considered to be Grubbs' unsatisfactory work performance that would have justified his removal.

Contrary to what some people think, government employees can be fired. However, it is up to the employee's immediate supervisor and higher-ups in the chain-of-command to thoroughly and comtemporaneously document all of the events and remedial efforts leading up to any adverse personnel action. Competent human resources (HR) departments train supervisors to do this.

If an agency's supervisors fail to follow accepted HR procedures for counselling, documenting, and disciplining an employee, it will be extremely difficult to fire that employee. For example, if the employee's formal annual performance evaluations consistently rate him or her "satisfactory" or better, it will be difficult for the agency to fire the employee based on the agency's representation that the employee had a history of unsatisfactory performance. One of the worst and stupidest things an employer can do is to retroactively construct the historical documentation necessary to discipline or fire an employee. That process will be seen for what it is: an effort to cover up supervisory laziness, timidity, or incompetence. It also allows the employee to effectively argue that the events never occurred, or if they did, that they were so minor as to not justify termination.

According to today's Press article, Grubbs was under investigation because of his "'bullying the employee' technique style." If true, if Grubbs' abused employees but the alleged incidents and supervisory efforts to correct them were not documented, then the one event that precipitated the Idaho State Police (ISP) investigation would have to be so egregious as to justify termination on its own. Apparently it did not because if it had, Grubbs would have been fired outright, not promised another county job.

It's fair to wonder why Grubbs' superiors in the Sheriff's Department had failed to properly document the events and counsel him if they found his supervisory and management style were abusive. It's also fair to ask what the "final straw" was that caused the Sheriff to first suspend and then quietly (and expensively) remove him. Here, the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners should not have agreed to seal Grubbs' personnel record. By inking that agreement, the Commissioners may have been hoping to conceal the unsatisfactory performance of several elected county officials and some supervisors in the Sheriff's Department.


Anonymous tsykoduk said...

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for the insightful posts. I am looking forward to seeing what the next development in this is.

5:58 PM, May 07, 2005  
Blogger someone named Dave said...

I am shamefully naive about a lot of what goes on, but I read this post and came away with a clearer idea of what is going on. You did a good job of boiling it down so a simpleton such as myself could understand it. Keep up the good work!

7:27 PM, May 08, 2005  
Blogger Bay Views said...

Another well done, Bill...

1:57 PM, May 09, 2005  

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