For years, numerous fears, frustrations and victimizations have been relayed to me by Teton County employees.
The unfortunate reality is that the individuals reporting the incidents have had to stay anonymous for fear of retaliation, which they feel is common practice in the county’s administration.
The County Administrator and head of the Human Resources Department are the common denominator cited to me as administers of policies that have generated a climate of anxiety among county workers.
The workers are seen as schemers who want to take advantage of the county. The two executives are discouraging department heads to stick up for their staff. They exert overzealous watching over, and intense questioning for health benefits entitled to employees. One of the modus operandi of county administration and human resources is their perceived duty to cut county expenses. It is used as a means of restraint toward employees and nonprofits. However, it has badly misfired because it led to large staff turnovers, which are costly in terms of hiring and training.
Fire/EMS, sheriff, health, tax collection, planning, all those departments have been affected by the toxic atmosphere. The result of the 2019 staff satisfaction survey makes it clear how bad the morale is and to this day remedies have not been made.
I was made aware that some targeted individuals have suffered from severe distress after being subjected to the comportment of the two executives.
The heads of county administration and human resources have extended their unpleasant reach to mingle inappropriately in the affairs of nonprofits that rely on partial county funding.
The result is obvious. The county runs less efficiently, and each one of us should care about this current state of affairs for our tax dollars are contributing to make the lives of our county employees miserable.
When Dail Barbour, a Teton County Library Board volunteer, was voted out after the meddling of the County Commissioners and administrators, I recognized a repeating pattern and decided to become proactive.
I sent emails to the Teton County Board of County Commissioners and County Administrator Alyssa Watkins to make them aware that their policies had a negative effect. I did not mince words. Those emails are in the public domain, and I received communications from people telling me their negative experiences. They were encouraged that somebody, at last, was speaking on their behalf.
In mid-January of 2021, I had a Zoom meeting with Teton County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Natalia Macker and Commissioner Mark Newcomb. I reiterated what I knew. They did not disclaim the facts I presented to them. I accepted, on their suggestion, to have another Zoom meeting in mid-February with Ms. Macker, Mr. Newcomb and Ms. Watkins. I advised them that if they did not do anything to improve the conditions under which the employees of the county work and not look closely to supervise the administration, sooner or later a public indignation would come up. I was unsettled by the fact they never contradicted what I was saying, and their lack of reaction felt perplexing.
The appalling inaction by the Board of County Commissioners has let the situation fester. To this day commissioners appear unwilling to do anything about a state of affairs that drives away talent, drives up turnover, triggers unnecessary stress and anxiety among staff, leaves a trail of vacancies that makes it harder for the county to reach its goals and leads to costly contracts to do work that could be done more efficiently in-house.
The welfare of their employees is obviously not a priority for commissioners. They show a disdain to get involved in the minutiae of the running of the county with the consequence that the county administrator has a free hand, and is mostly unsupervised.
An article in the April 14 News&Guide made public the resignation of Ms. Fries. At first, I thought it would be positive for the morale of county employees but reading about the exit package added to the facts that Ms. Fries will still be in charge of hiring and firing with an increase in salary. That costly agreement must have made our county employees’ morale sink.
Praise to the sheriff! Matt Carr told the truth in the last sentence of the article about battling Ms. Watkins for dispatcher raises.
My fellow citizens, I would ask you to make our commissioners accountable and ask them to monitor the actions of the county administrator and act as her supervisor.
The county employs many people and some of them might be members of your family or just friends you know from outdoor activities or places of worship. Show them that you care about their welfare and ask yourself what it would be like to work in a place where you constantly have to be nervous about getting fired.
Make the commissioners accountable. It is time to demand transparency for their inaction.
Otherwise, we will all be unwitting accomplices in our county employees’ plight.