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Hernando rejects union president's grievance over hiring process

BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County officials said they will not process a grievance filed by Robert Rae concerning a purported policy violation but the president of the firefighters' union said he is not buying the reason and will move forward with his complaint.

Rae said he intends to hand deliver the grievance to County Administrator Len Sossamon in the next few days.

Meanwhile, the county's human resources department this week is reviewing the 40 applications that came in for the vacant position of public safety director, according to county spokeswoman Virginia Singer. About a half dozen of those applicants work for either the Brooksville Fire Department or Hernando County Fire Rescue. The public safety director is also the county's fire chief.

Rae filed the grievance after the county re-advertised for the position following mistakes during the solicitation process. Human Resources Manager Jerry Haines said in an April 11 memo to Rae that the county's collective bargaining agreement with Local 3760 applies to every county employee included in the bargaining unit that the union is certified to represent.

"The position of fire chief is not included within that certification and is not subject to a grievance or arbitration," Haines wrote. And even if it was, no contract violation occurred, Haines wrote.

"Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, the county retains the sole and exclusive right to manage and direct any and all of its operations," Haines wrote. "Among those rights, the county retained the exclusive right to select, hire and determine the criteria and standards of employment."

Haines added that the county "had the right to alter the fire chief's job description and to modify the procedures" in advertising applicants for the position.

Rae said the county needs to promote from within instead of going outside for applicants. He called it a "kick in the teeth" if the county doesn't consider Michael Nickerson for the job.

Nickerson is the interim Hernando County public safety director, having taken over for former director Mike Rampino, who retired last month.

The first advertisement for the position required only a high school diploma and experience. The second requires a college degree, which would automatically eliminate several candidates, including Nickerson.

County Commissioner Jim Adkins said he asked Sossamon in an email to bypass the interview process and hire Nickerson to the position.

But Sossamon has not made any decision yet.

Rae said he didn't file the grievance on behalf of Nickerson. He said he filed the grievance as a county employee and it is irrelevant that he also happens to be a union president.

"This has nothing to do with our contract," Rae said.

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