Addressing Jefferson County legislators Tuesday, Elizabeth Y. Daugherty, a caseworker at the Department of Social Services and president of the employees union, said that the search for a new department commissioner unfairly favored certain candidates and would do little to turn the tide of low morale at the agency.
Mrs. Daugherty, who recently was elected president of Jefferson County Unit 7150 of Local 823, Civil Service Employees Association, did not identify herself as the union president at a meeting of the Board of Legislators Health and Human Services Committee.
She did, however, question why legislators did not advertise outside the department to get as wide as possible a field of qualified candidates a move she said Wednesday was intended to advance a candidate the board already had chosen.
Why? Why would they not want to? They did it for the airport, they did it for the public health nurse, Mrs. Daugherty said Wednesday. They already knew who they wanted to pick.
Two departmental appointments were announced during Tuesdays Finance and Rules Committee meeting.
Grant W. Sussey, director of aviation at Orange County Airport, Montgomery, was named manager of the Watertown International Airport and Teresa W. Gaffney, deputy commissioner of the Jefferson County Department of Social Services, was named commissioner of the department.
The ad-hoc interview committee that selected Mrs. Gaffney, comprising five legislators, unanimously nominated her for the position, according to committee member James A. Nabywaniec, R-Calcium.
Both Mr. Susseys and Mrs. Gaffneys nominations will have to be confirmed by legislators at their full board meeting Tuesday. Mrs. Gaffneys appointment also will have to be approved by the state commissioner of social services.
Commissioner Laura C. Cerow, who will retire at the end of October, told the Times in May that Mrs. Gaffney was appointed deputy director of the agency to groom her and train her possibly to step into the commissioners role in November, though the ultimate decision would be left up to the Board of Legislators.
The county aims to promote internal candidates whenever possible, said Mr. Nabywaniec, who is also the chairman of the boards Health and Human Services Committee.
Generally the feeling is you want to foster an environment where you want to promote from within ... where people want to move up he said. Im very happy with the selection and feel good about it. Teresa will do a good job for the taxpayers of Jefferson County.
According to Mrs. Daugherty, however, the position was not widely advertised even within the department.
Only senior management personnel were sent the job description, Mrs. Daugherty said, even though two union members were interviewed for the job.
Mr. Nabywaniec noted that the board was impressed with all four candidates, but Mrs. Gaffney emerged as the clear front-runner through the interview process.
Mrs. Daugherty said that morale at the agency, which is in the basement, had declined greatly under Mrs. Cerow, a trend that would continue if her deputy were installed as the new commissioner.
If things dont change, the county will have to figure out how to pay for a subbasement to accommodate the plunging esprit de corps, Mrs. Daugherty remarked to legislators.
Treat the people fairly ... dont treat them like theyre just a cockroach you can step on. Its not right, Im sorry, she said Wednesday.
One of Mrs. Daughertys chief complaints is the lack of adequate training for new employees, who seem to turn over quickly at the agency.
They feel that anybody can be let go and replaced tomorrow, Mrs. Daugherty said.
It costs $25,000 to train each new employee, pay them and then let them go, according to Mrs. Daughertys calculations.
Mrs. Cerow acknowledged that there is a high turnover at the agency but took exception with Mrs. Daughertys characterization that morale was low as a result of poor management practices.
Ive worked in Social Services for 32 to 33 years, Mrs. Cerow said. I cant remember a time here when morale was high. Its hard work. People take the test and its not what they thought. It takes two to three years for a caseworker to be autonomous.
Mrs. Cerow, who described Mrs. Daugherty as a disgruntled employee, said the department has a policy to address anonymous complaints and suggestions and that people are pleasant when she walks through the social services building at 250 Arsenal St.
She also said that she always has had pretty positive relationships with past union presidents.
We didnt always agree, but it was always quite civilized, Mrs. Cerow said.
Complicating the matter is the fact that Mrs. Daugherty also is involved in litigation with the county.
She filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the county alleging that she was demoted for exercising her right to take medical leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to County Attorney David J. Paulsen.
The county has filed a motion to dismiss the suit based on a previous finding during a CSEA arbitration hearing that Mrs. Daugherty was not demoted but transferred to a parallel position, Mr. Paulsen said.
Despite her apparently complicated relationship with her employer, Mrs. Daugherty said, her primary goal is simply to look out for the interests of her fellow employees.
Teresa said she has wonderful people to work with, Mrs. Daugherty said of Mrs. Gaffney. Thats true, she does. We just want management to take a look at how they treat their workers.
Of the past 16 department heads nominated and/or appointed by the county, 13 were internal candidates and three were external candidates, according to County Human Resources Director Valerie M. Borland.
Positions were advertised externally during five of those candidate searches, Mrs. Borland said.