Oneida County employees will have a new impartial hearing officer hearing their cases when bringing grievances forward after the labor relations and employee services committee recently voted to use Judge Timothy Vocke.
The committee chose Vocke over Judge Robert Kinney and a pool of area human resource directors.
The choice came before the committee after the county updated its grievance policy, human resources cirector Lisa Charbarneau explained.
“We updated our grievance policy and added language for an Impartial Hearing Officer. We took it away from being the labor relations committee. We’ve talked about what our other options are and the possibility of using a pool of other human resource professionals. There’s a large group of human resource directors that are in a pool and the only cost to the county to be in that pool is there could be a chance that they would someday want me to do that for another county,” Charbarneau said before continuing on to explain that she also reached out to the two judges to provide the committee with other options.
“I also contacted Judge Vocke and Judge Kinney. I’ve been in contact with some folks from the school district up in Minocqua and they indicated to me that they use Judge Kinney for this process and it’s been excellent. [Judge Kinney] does offer a little bit lower rate at $120 per hour. Judge Vocke is a little bit more expensive, but he does do this for Vilas County ... so he’s very familiar with this policy and process.”
Vocke charges $175 per hour, Charbarneau said.
The pool of human resource directors was the first option shot down by the committee, with Scott Holewinski saying that using employees from other counties could be perceived as less than impartial.
“I would rather see one of the judges do it that doesn’t have any take on anything. If I was on the other end (of the hearing), I’d look at it and say, ‘Well, it’s Lisa’s friend from Vilas coming to give me a hearing, how fair is this going to be?’ So, I would lean more toward one of the judges,” Holewinski said.
Fellow committee member Carol Pederson concurred.
“I would have to agree with that,” she said.
Upon hearing that, Charbarneau informed the committee that Judge Kinney could also be viewed by some as less than impartial as he is also well-known in the Oneida County Courthouse after serving as an Oneida County Circuit Court Judge for many years.
“Judge Kinney worked in this building for 25-plus years and knows a lot of the staff as well. Even (corporation counsel) Brian (Desmond) said to me that it could give the idea that it may not be as impartial as it should be, either,” Charbarneau said.
With that, Holewinski said he was leaning toward Vocke.
“Vocke would be alright. He’s a bit more (costly), but how many of these are going to pop up in a year?” he said, to which Charbarneau answered that she hopes “not a lot.”
Holewinski then solidified his choice, saying he thinks Vocke would be the most impartial of the three choices.
“I think if we choose to use Judge Vocke, we’ve picked an impartial person to hear (the grievances) in Oneida County ... and if he knows somebody, then he’ll say he knows the person and we can get somebody else,” Holewinski said.
Before the committee could vote on the matter, however, Dennis O’Brien, a former employee of AFSCME, the nation's largest public services employees union, wanted to know why the county was not considering using members of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC).
“Is there a reason why the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission employees were not considered as an option for choosing an arbitrator? When I used to file cases, it would only cost about $400 for the whole deal and they would come up and do it,” O’Brien said, explaining that the WERC has a long history of being a respected group of arbitrators in the state.
Charbarneau explained that the committee was picking from the options presented to them by the county’s legal counsel.
“Legal counsel presented this policy to us and this was their recommendation (to consider either the pool of human resource directors or one of the two judges),” Charbarneau said.
Committee member Billy Fried said he would be fine with choosing Vocke for now, but said the committee should hold discussions in the future on creating a pool of arbitrators the county can turn to when needed.
“I think it’s important that we choose one of these three avenues to pursue right now, but I think it’s worthy of discussion to look into developing a pool. That not only works for the employee who might be grieving, but for us, too,” Fried said.
With that, the committee voted unanimously to go with Vocke for now, while planning to hold further discussions on the topic of creating a pool down the road.
Marcus Nesemann may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.