3/6/2018 3:43:00 PM SWCD Board to review work time of district administrator Board member Don Fulton raises questions, issues at meeting
Pictured are members of the Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District (JCSWD) Board of Supervisors and staff members. The board reorganized in January and conducts monthly meetings on the fourth Wednesday of each month at the district office on Fairgreens Road. Seated (from the left) are: Board Chairman Mike Sheeter, and board members Billy Clark and Don Fulton. Standing (from the left) are: District Administrator Bruce Barkhurst, Board Vice-Chairman Josh McWilliams, Board Fiscal Officer Billy Miller, and District Technician/Wildlife Specialist Andrew Bennett. (Telegram Photo By Pete Wilson)
The Jackson Soil and Water Conservation Board of Supervisors (JCSWD) will be conducting an internal inquiry in an attempt to determine if District Administrator Bruce Barkhurst has been working the required amount of hours and properly recording his work time.
JCSWD board members voted to take that action at its regular monthly meeting held on Wednesday, Feb. 28 after board member Don Fulton raised a series of questions and made insinuations about Barkhurst's working hours and performance during a running discussion which dominated the three-hour plus meeting held at the JSWCD office on Fairgreens Road.
The stated mission of JCSWD is "to meet the needs of natural resource users by making available and coordinating technical, financial, and educational resources to conserve soil, water, and related natural resources." The staff is composed of District Administrator Barkhurst and District Technician/Wildlife Specialist Andrew Bennett. Current members of the board of supervisors are Chairman Michael Sheeter, Vice-Chairman Josh McWilliams, Fiscal Officer Billy Miller and members Bill Clark and Fulton.
In his administrative role, Barkhurst works on an hourly basis and is paid for 24 hours a week with a base schedule which calls for him to work three eight-hour days on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of each week while being off on Monday and Friday of each week.
In his inquiry, Fulton cited several recent work days in which he called into question whether Barkhurst worked full days as scheduled and suggested there were "many days" when this has occurred and he also called into question if Barkhurst has been accurately reporting his work time.
Fulton's position was backed up at two points by Bennett, who replied "no way" when asked if Barkhurst is in the office the scheduled amount of time. In a written statement noting his concerns about his work evaluation and his standing with the board, Bennett wrote that Barkhurst was in the office only 6 to 12 hours per week.
Barkhurst admitted that on one of the days in question he had to go see an attorney in Portsmouth and on another day he did leave to teach a safety class in Ironton related to his other employment. However, he denied the insinuation he was shorting JSWCD and indicated that he has always made up missed time by attending meetings and working outside the regular hours. He also pointed out he has 32 hours of personal time he can use.
"I always get my hours; that was the way I was hired," Barkhurst said, who described his working hours at one point as "flex time." At one point he said he felt "blindsided" by Fulton's accusations and negative conclusions.
Board Chairman Sheeter concluded there was a lot of "he said/he said" questions arising in the discussion and he wanted to take steps to resolve the issue with documented facts. A motion was then carried by a voice vote to review the hours worked/time records issues by examining the official time sheets turned in by Barkhurst as well as Barkhurst's personal written records or notes relative to his work time and time off. It was agreed this review would cover the last 26 months. Ohio Department of Agriculture Area 5 Program Specialist Cody Hacker of the Division of Soil and Water Conservation agreed to help do this work.
Also, Fulton established that no one currently signs Barkhurst's time sheets. Fulton suggested that Bennett be designated to do this as he would be the most knowledgeable person to do so. The board then carried a motion for Bennett to sign Barkhurst's time sheets in the future.
Fulton also criticized and pressed Barkhurst on an issue involving JSWCD's project to rent out a piece of equipment known as a Plotmaster, which is used to plant and maintain wildlife food plots. JSWCD has the PlotMaster in hand, but is still in the process of securing a trailer which is necessary to haul it and to finalize a rental agreement for its use.
Fulton wanted to know why it was taking Barkhurst so long to get a sample rental agreement reviewed and approved for usage and noted that Barkhurst had said in January he would be contacting Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Lovett to get this done. Fulton said he had recently talked to Lovett, who said, according to Fulton, that he had received no contact from Barkhurst on this matter. Barkhurst said he thought he had sent Lovett an email. When Fulton asked him to show evidence of the email, the meeting adjourned for a short time, but Barkhurst was unable to produce it.
Fulton also felt Barkhurst had failed to make expected progress on purchasing the trailer needed for the PlotMaster and that this issue also had been discussed at the January meeting. Fulton noted that he had offered to accompany Barkhurst earlier in the month to drive to the trailer dealership, but that Barkhurst had postponed the trip. Barkhurst recalled that he thought there was a weather-related issue on that day.
"I think Bruce is responsible for the public not being able to use that equipment," Fulton charged, alluding to the failure to finalize the rental agreement and buy the trailer.
Later in the meeting Barkhurst pledged he would take the same rental agreement to Lovett and the next day as well as hopefully turn in the invoice to the auditor's office so the trailer could be purchased.
Fulton also asked Barkhurst if there was a problem with him being able to supervise Bennett and asked if he had pressured Bennett "not to discuss things." Barkhurst said he had not instructed Bennett to keep quiet and that Bennett had always been allowed to prepare and submit reports for the board.
Bennett told the board that night he was unhappy that Barkhurst did not complete his first-year employee evaluation for about six weeks after he expected to get it. Bennett also indicated he was anxious to get feedback from the board about his performance and standing, which he says he has never received. President Sheeter noted that Barkhurst is Bennett's supervisor and that it was therefore his responsibility to evaluate. When asked if Barkhurst had given him a positive evaluation, Bennett replied "I suppose."
Board member Clark then addressed both Barkhurst and Bennett. "We expect you to get along and work out the problems and keep your feelings to yourselves and do your jobs."
Fulton also asked if Barkhurst had made copies for his safety school on the JSWCD copier. Barkhurst said yes, but that he kept records of this in his drawer so he could repay the district for these copies.
At one point early in the discussion, Fiscal Officer Miller suggested that personnel matters should not be discussed in public. However, no motion was ever made or voted on to adjourn into an executive session.