by Ivan Foley
Some recent closed sessions held by the Platte County Commission appear to be tied to the absence of the county human resources director from the administration building.
As previously reported by The Landmark, Mary Robinson, the county’s human resources director since 2009, has not been on the job since sometime in early-to-mid December. A co-worker of Robinson’s told the newspaper that Robinson had resigned to spend time with a sick relative. The co-worker said Robinson’s last official day was Dec. 16.
But comments from Ron Schieber, presiding commissioner, indicate the matter isn’t that simple. Schieber will only describe the matter as “an ongoing personnel situation on which I will not comment.”
Via requests under the Missouri Sunshine Law, The Landmark has obtained minutes from a series of closed session meetings held in recent weeks by the county commission. Some of the closed meetings took place when Duane Soper and Beverlee Roper were still in place as the associate commissioners, while the most recent sessions took place with new commissioners Dagmar Wood and John Elliott joining Schieber.
A Dec. 9 closed meeting with attorney Tim Mudd of the Mudd Law Firm of Kansas City indicates the county commission authorized Mudd “to extend to opposing counsel the written settlement agreement and release which was presented and discussed during the meeting.”
That motion was passed 3-0 by Schieber, Roper and Soper.
Mudd is also representing the county in a civil lawsuit reported in last week’s Landmark in which a woman was injured in a traffic accident that involved a county public works employee.
At a Dec. 19 closed session, the same three commissioners unanimously authorized attorney Mudd “to conduct an investigation in anticipation of litigation.”
That was the final closed session involving the former commission.
Mutiple closed sessions have also been held by the new commission. News of the criminal investigation into the public works director, Greg Sager, broke in The Landmark on Dec. 28 and created another personnel situation that may have been a closed session topic in addition to Robinson’s status.
The new county commission met in closed session on Jan. 3 from 8:30 a.m. to 9:53 a.m. In the early part of that session, commissioners met with county legal counselor Bob Shaw, discussing “prior projects and upcoming issues.”
From 8:46 to 9:53 a.m. the commission met with Mudd and Matthew Gist, an employment and labor attorney for Ensz and Jester law firm of Kansas City, to discuss “pending and anticipated litigated matters.”
According to minutes from that meeting, Mudd was directed “to continue with negotiations on the county’s behalf.”
That motion was passed 3-0 by Schieber, Elliott and Wood.
The next day, on Wednesday, Jan. 4, the commission met again in closed session from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. For about 45 minutes, Mudd took part in the discussion by phone.
The minutes indicate that from 2:06 to 3 p.m., the commissioners discussed what is described as “a second personnel matter.”
That matter seems likely to have been the Sager situation in public works.
Sager submitted his resignation the next day, on Thursday, Jan. 4 (see related story).
On Monday, Jan. 9, the county commission met in closed session from 11:31 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
The Landmark believes at least part of this session dealt with public works, including meeting with Bob Heim, as later Monday county commissioners confirmed Heim had agreed to become interim public works director.
Also within Monday’s closed session, Gist, the labor and employment attorney, took part in discussions by phone. He joined the meeting by phone at 12:05 p.m., according to the minutes.
County officials have continued to decline to specifically comment on anything related to the status of the human resources director.
But in looking to the future as the commission works to fill several openings at department head spots (see related story), Schieber did say the county will look at the possibility of outsourcing some services in the future, including possibly outsourcing human resources.
Robinson’s time as HR director has been marked with controversy, including an arrest in 2014 for DWI. Court documents indicated she had three previous alcohol-related convictions in the state of New York.
She was originally charged with a felony but the charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor when prosecutors said they could not acquire the necessary certified documentation from the state of New York on some of Robinson’s previous alcohol-related offenses.
She was placed on probation for two years and was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device for the first 120 days of that probation period.
A court docket entry made on Dec. 21 indicates Robinson has successfully completed all conditions of her probation.
In 2012, county commissioners Jason Brown and Kathy Dusenbery voted to issue Robinson a written reprimand for an undisclosed reason. At the time, Robinson told The Landmark: “I have done nothing to warrant disciplinary action.”
Her recent absence from the administration building began a couple of weeks prior to the arrival of two new commissioners who during their campaigns had been critical of Robinson’s continued employment with the county. In summer debates with their opponents, both Wood and Elliott had addressed the topic.
“I don’t believe a person with multiple DWIs should still be employed by the county,” Elliott said in July.
“When you have an HR director with multiple DWI arrests, most recently with a blood alcohol content of twice the legal limit and who was described by the arresting officer as ‘a danger to the community,’ that’s a problem. That’s a problem when she continues to be employed by the county,” Wood said in a June debate against Roper.