Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
The Washington County Board of Supervisors deliberated compensation for Ambulance Director Jeremy Peck for nearly 90 minutes at their meeting Tuesday morning, ultimately pushing back action on an issue with potential pay implications for all salaried county employees.
“Back (in) August, it became obvious that Jeremy was putting in extra time and extra effort because he couldn’t track down and keep paramedics and EMTs,” Board Member Jack Seward Jr. said. “The answer to that was raising the pay scale … in September, October and November, Jeremy documented he had put in about 180 hours over and above his administrator time as director, and asked for some compensation for that.”
Board Member Stan Stoops said he planned to vote against additional compensation for those hours early in the meeting.
“I would like to, for (Peck’s) sake, but since a week ago, there have been some department heads that have come in and said, ‘I want the same,’” Stoops said. “That’s going to be a difficult thing to say no to. It would appear we’ve opened a can of worms … putting out over and above, for a department head, that’s part of the program.”
Outgoing Interim Public Health Director Chris Estle confirmed Stoops’ concerns, noting that Jefferson County, where she is the public health administrator, compensated its salaried public health staff for their heavy workloads due to COVID-19.
“My concern is that public health has been in the pandemic for two years,” she said. “I took this to my board of health and then the board of supervisors in Jefferson County. All of the employees at Jefferson County public health received a one-time stipend for hazard pay of $10,000 for hours worked above and beyond … I would not be doing my due diligence as interim administrator not to address this issue.”
County Engineer Jacob Thorius expressed a similar sentiment.
“I’ve got two employees, my maintenance superintendent and assistant maintenance superintendent that, in the winter months, put in hours like that in the same time period,” he said.
Estle said changes to ‘above and beyond’ compensation arrangements should be applied across the board, not isolated to one employee, such as Peck.
“I know that there needs to be some type of policy or procedure in place, however that needs to be across the board, the same for all employees,” she said. “There’s always going to be times when somebody’s going to have to step up, work more, above that 40-hour threshold. We understand that when we take an administrator or director role.”
Board Chair Richard Young agreed.
“It’s nothing against Jeremy, this is all about, ‘Are we doing things correctly?’” he said. “I think we need to sit down and figure this all out … and say, ‘This is how we move forward.’”
With a work session slated for Monday morning, Peck said said his work qualified as going beyond his duties for the county of 22,000.
“Because of whatever reason, I don’t have enough paramedics to put on the streets. I could say, ‘Well, guess we’ll just be short an ambulance,’ but that’s not being responsible to the citizens,” he said. “I’m looking to build a service here that’s above and beyond and elite, and I’m bringing it to the forefront. I’m sorry that it’s causing everybody headaches and it’s causing other people to get upset about it, but I kind of feel like maybe it should have been discussed years ago.”
The discussion comes three weeks after the board approved wage increases for every employee of the ambulance department other than Peck, using a newly approved pay matrix. While that salary increase was technically a separate action item, discussion around it was largely tied to arguments about the overtime pay.
“The reason why it was being tabled was because we were trying to determine … whether or not he’s an exempt employee,” Board Member Marcus Fedler said. “I think it’s clear based on some of the conversations that have been had, that the 180 hours, or whatever it ends up being, was beyond the exempt employee’s agreed job description.”
While technically a separate action item, much of the discussion was tied to board approval of Peck’s regular wage increase, outlined in a pay scale several weeks ago, but not yet acknowledged by the board.
Some county officials took pains to draw a distinction between the two issues, however, including Thorius.
“That is a whole separate discussion that I think you need to have a work session with Jeremy on and take into consideration the exempt, non-exempt status and what that does for all departments,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with whatever you pay Jeremy that you think he’s worth, that’s the same way I pay my guys, but the work above and beyond, (that) is a huge gray area.”
As for the regular salary raise under the new matrix, Peck said he felt the county had a promise to keep.
"All this is doing is putting in the personnel change request for that wage that was already approved,“ he said. “To me, you approved it, and now you’re going back on what you said you would do.“
Still, Seward and Fedler hesitantly rescinded their motion and second for the salary adjustment, at the advice of County Attorney John Gish, who said the county should seek further legal guidance before potentially altering a contract. Board members said it would be on next week’s agenda.
“I think it would benefit everybody involved to make sure this document does not need to be changed whatsoever,” Gish said. “I don’t see an option right now for how the board could change the agreement, which as far as I can tell is still in effect, without an amendment … I don’t have all the information or time to offer a necessarily correct opinion, my only suggestion was take the time to talk to Bill Sueppel.”
While both motions regarding Peck’s pay were delayed, Board Chair Richard Young pledged to compensate the ambulance director accordingly when the dust settled.
“We will get this behind us and move forward, I promise you,” he said to Peck. “I promise you, and I’ve never lied to you yet.”