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Blacklisted former Morgan County employees can now be rehired

By Michael Wetzel

For the Enquirer

In response to a tight labor market, former Morgan County employees once blacklisted from being rehired are now invited to apply.

The Morgan County Commission Sept. 27 amended the policies and procedures handbook to allow former county workers who were labeled “not for rehire” to be considered for reemployment on a case-by-case basis.

County Commission Chairman Ray Long and Sheriff Ron Puckett agreed it will help in their efforts to find workers.

“Maybe the worker had a disagreement with a director (or) when they left they didn’t give a notice, and that person’s personnel file might have been marked ‘not for rehire.’ Some for political reasons might have been marked ‘not for rehire,’” Long said. “This change will allow us to rehire some of these folks.”

He said some elected officials and department heads said they wanted the commission to revisit the policy.

“In the past six to eight months, we have had a few people come back that we knew were good employees interested in working here again. We will review those applicants on an individual case-by-case basis,” Long said.

He said employees who were terminated for fighting or stealing are unlikely to be rehired, but their applications would be reviewed.

“We want to open it back up as another way to bring good employees back in. We struggle, just like the private sector does, getting employees,” Long said.

Puckett said he constantly struggles with employee turnover at the jail. He said the recent bump in pay for correctional officers and this policy change should help.

“I think that change is awesome,” Puckett said. “But, of course, it depends on who they are and why they left. If they are good employees, we will want them. It will open a door that has been shut and allow us to review those people.”

He said this year the Sheriff’s Office/jail employee turnover was 40%. He said he lost 11 jail workers in June. “It might take us three months to find 11 more workers to replace those,” Puckett said.

The sheriff said retaining deputies hasn’t been a huge problem, and he attempts to fill those vacancies with jailers when possible.

“We’re having more employees who are staying longer, but our problem is in the jail,” he said. “Higher pay does help. But unless you have worked in the jail you have no concept mentally of what it entails. You get in here and think, ‘This is not what I thought it would be and I’m out of here.’ Sometimes people stay two months, sometimes not even for their first paycheck.

“Most people aren’t called to do that kind of work. We’re looking for those who are called and want to make a career out of it. At least a longer career than two or three months.”

He said his jail staff has only been fully staffed one time since he took office in 2018.

“Now that the labor market is the way it is, I don’t know of anybody, any job anywhere, that is fully staffed. I think church staffs are even low,” he said. “I don’t have the expectation that we will be fully staffed any time soon. I hope I’m wrong. Everywhere I go I see help wanted signs out.”

To help address the issue, the commission approved Puckett’s hiring of a jail staffing specialist.

He said the specialist, Anthony Clark, goes to job fairs, high schools and colleges to help find people to work in the jail.

“He does the interviews, stays with the candidates through the process and once hired, makes sure they are getting what they need,” Puckett said. “They know they can go to him if they have a problem. We’re trying to attract the right candidates.”

On Tuesday morning, the commission authorized the sheriff to eliminate seven grade 1 correctional officer positions that paid $16.02 to $20.59 an hour and create and fill six grade 2 correctional officers paying $17.30 to $22.24 an hour. The jail staffing specialist position pays $18.24 to $23.99 per hour.

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