By GARY POPP
Following the contentious firing and rehiring of Clark County Community Corrections Executive Director Steve Mason this summer, Clark County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Moore now intends to add a more businesslike atmosphere to the agency.
During a Community Corrections Advisory Board meeting Thursday, Moore, who accepted the board’s presidency last month, updated its 11-year-old bylaws, which he said most staff members didn’t know existed.
The new bylaws — which were unanimously approved at Thursday’s meeting — not only make regulations over Community Corrections more transparent, but they’re written to prevent instances that led to the termination of Mason by Chief Probation Officer Henry Ford, which was later determined to be unjustified, from occurring in the future.
Moore explained the updated bylaws will change the employment status of Mason and Work Release Director Danielle Grissett from at-will to two-year appointments.
While an appointment can be viewed as more precarious than traditional employment, Moore says the new status will give Mason and Grissett more job security and longevity.
“They are not contractors. They were employees at will. There was not a definite term fixed for their employment. They were just hired,” Moore said.
At the time Mason was fired by Ford, it was only the consensus of the advisory board and Clark County Commissioners that could have led to Mason’s termination.
Lack of understanding of the bylaws might have sparked the controversy surrounding Mason.
“All of that experience, from June forward, made me think, ‘Let’s draft things that are easily readable. Everybody knows what the rules of the game are, everybody gets evaluated and we move forward,’” Moore said.
Under the new bylaws, it remains the authority of the commissioners and the advisory board to hire and terminate the community corrections director and work release director, but now that Mason and Grissett are appointed, it will be a more regulated procedure to terminate either officeholder.
“What happened on that fateful Friday in June I still haven’t completely reconstructed in my mind, but someone goes into Mason’s office and says, ‘You’re fired,’” Moore said. “Well, these bylaws don’t permit that to happen. These bylaws, on the upside, give them a commitment of a two-year term of employment, unless their evaluations are bad, unless they don’t follow instructions. Assuming they can agree on compensation terms, they get renewed again. It adds some certainty to a situation that was pretty uncertain.”
While the two positions were transitioned to appointments, it does not mean the officeholder cannot be terminated before the end of the term.
“They can be fired mid-appointment like anybody else can,” Moore said, adding that terms for dismissal include dishonesty, breaking of the law and unprofessional conduct.
Through the updated bylaws, Moore said he wants to bring a higher level or professionalism to Community Corrections.
“I was particularly not happy when I went to one of the meetings in June, right after that big event, and I saw practically the entire staff, during working hours, sitting in the audience watching as Henry Ford, somewhat embarrassingly, explain what had happened because we had to do that in a public meeting, and I just thought to myself, ‘It’s not operating in a business-like way,’” Moore said.
At a following advisory board meeting, Moore was looking for some accountability of what he considered an unprofessional display.
“The first question I asked [was], ‘Who is minding the store?’ There were about eight employees there ready to watch the action, and I thought that was really unprofessional,” he said.
Moore said Community Corrections is staffed by good people who are committed to their duties, but he wants to see improvement, adding, “... we have an accountability, certainly to [the Indiana Department of Correction], but, certainly, we have a safety factor [to uphold] to this community.”
Moore said he is trying to rebuild the agency, as an approaching state statute will result in big changes, including more offenders for Community Corrections.
“This personnel picture, for the summer of 2013, it is what it is. It was what it was, but there is just more important stuff to be doing than dwelling on that. I recognize, too, that some of the people involved have some hurt feelings and anger, and maybe time will heal some of that,” Moore said. “In terms of this board operating and getting ready for the things coming down the pike, they just really need to be moving forward.”
The new bylaws also outline that when Department of Correction funds, via grants that support a Community Corrections appointment, employee or program, are exhausted, the appointment or program will be terminated.
Moore said that many times Clark County has decided to place that Department of Correction-funded position on its own payroll when grants have been depleted, but that will no longer be an option for the county.
“This is something Barbara Hollis, coming from her posture as [Clark] county council president, has suggested, and it’s probably a good, conservative thing to do,” Moore said.