Patience, calm needed over county veterans service officer
Thanks, in part, to a vaguely worded agenda, a group of area veterans came to last week’s meeting of the Taylor County Finance and Personnel Committee ready to fight in defense of current veterans service officer Shellie Shaw.
Shaw is currently on non-disciplinary paid leave from the county. Friday’s committee meeting included an agenda item to formally approve covering the cost of having the veterans service officers (VSOs) from Clark and Rusk counties assist in providing services to Taylor County veterans one to two days each week during the interim. It is routine for VSOs from one county to cover for another and the action item was because the county would be spending money to cover these expenses.
The meeting agenda also included a closed session to consider the “dismissal, demotion or discipline” of a county employee.
Given that no position title or even department was named, many of those seeing the vague agenda item jumped to the conclusion that it was an attack on the veterans service office. While this is not an unreasonable assumption to make, and the veterans and supporters attending the meeting should be commended for remaining vigilant, the topic of the closed session was an entirely different department.
The Taylor County Courthouse has been a powderkeg of personnel tensions for months. Longtime issues are festering to the surface and with changes in administrative leadership there will be plenty of rough roads ahead before things begin to smooth out. Taking greater care to reduce vagueness in agenda items will help ease these tensions.
There are legitimate questions about the veteran service officer’s leave. There are also privacy concerns at play that limit what information can be released. This is a hard pill to swallow for many of the veterans whose distrust of the county board has been allowed to fester for months as issues regarding the office operation have gone unresolved.
To this end, the county’s recently expanded veterans service committee needs to do its job and move forward in addressing the legitimate privacy and client workfl ow concerns that have previously been raised. This needs to be done while balancing the need for continued public access to the office. It is increasingly clear that the current location in the courthouse is less than ideal for the department as it is currently operated.
Offices in the courthouse have shifted around over the years as staffing and needs have changed. Making changes to better meet the needs of veterans and others using the office needs to happen sooner rather than later. There are spaces in the building that are being underutilized which could be renovated to meet the needs of the office.
When it comes to public employees, personnel items take time to be resolved and seldom include public disclosure of the core issues. Rather than attempting to jostle the elbow of those working on solutions in order to achieve a faster resolution, vigilant patience is needed. In the meantime, the county must work to rebuild the trust with the veterans’ community.