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Our view: In Caledonia, the cure is worse than the illness

 

 

If the folk who run the town of Caledonia had divine powers, you suspect they would turn the blind man lame. 

 

The convoluted case of water department employee Trey Robertson confirms that suspicion. 

 

During its Tuesday meeting, the Board managed to make a simple problem even more comically complex by offering a "solution" a dispute between Robertson and his boss, Water Superintendent Benny Coleman, over a $1-per-hour raise. 

 

Heaven help 'em, if they ever have a real issue to deal with.  

 

Previously on "As the Water Spigot Turns,'' Robertson, who works as a water technician, passed a re-certification test in the Spring of 2011 that would have made him eligible for the raise. All that stood in the way was Coleman's signature. 

 

More than a year passed and Coleman still hadn't signed off on the certification. In the meantime, Robertson's parents were immersed in a squabble with the Water Department over some $10,000 worth of damages the department did to their land. Suspicious sorts might see a connection between the two situations. 

 

The Board has been meeting to discuss this matter in executive session on and off for months now. 

 

Finally, last month, Robertson filed a grievance against Coleman. 

 

You get the sense that the Board was somewhat embarrassed by Robertson's move because the solution brokered on behalf of the Board by county attorney Jeff Smith screams "we are not only petty, we are vindictive, too!'' 

 

Smith's "Memorandum of Understanding'' was presented to Robertson, Coleman and mayor George Gerhart. 

 

Assuming that all three sign the agreement -- and there are some compelling reasons why Robertson shouldn't touch it without a long conversation with an attorney -- Robertson will get his pay-raise. The caveat is that Robertson has to abide by a troubling vague set of conditions. Not only that, but Robertson is being asked to sign off on a document that no other employees are required to sign. If at the end of 60 days, Robertson has not lived up to the dictates of the memorandum, the raise can go away. 

 

The memorandum states that Coleman didn't sign off on the raise because Robertson has not conducted himself "in an exemplary or workmanlike manner to the satisfaction of his supervisor.'' 

 

That exemplary (commendable) and workmanlike (competent) are two different standards only serves to emphasize the muddled nature of this "Memorandum of Understanding.'' 

 

In truth, the Board is simply attempting to take Robertson down a peg or two. 

 

After all, if Robertson had not lived up to the expectations of his boss, you think it would have been simple enough to terminate him. You generally don't need a year of squabbling and a "Memorandum of Understanding'' to resolve that sort of issue. It's pretty basic management stuff. 

 

Ultimately, this solution is designed to allow the Board and its water superintendent to save face while discouraging other employees from taking their case to the public. 

 

But the Board had better tread very carefully here.  

 

Robertson is likely not only entitled to that dollar-per-hour raise, but retroactive pay that dates to the time he passed that certification. EEOC attorneys are likely to beat a path to Robertson's door. 

 

It remains to be seen if Robertson will sign off on this deal. That he alone should be asked to sign what amounts to a good conduct clause is inherently wrong, of course. 

 

But, hey, it's Caledonia. 

 

 

 

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