Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse found himself sitting in the middle of an employee grievance hearing as the Hempstead Quorum Court, acting as arbitrators, mostly overturned an disciplinary action at a Monday night hearing.

Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse found himself sitting in the middle of an employee grievance hearing as the Hempstead Quorum Court, acting as arbitrators, mostly overturned an disciplinary action at a Monday night hearing.
County employee Michelle “Mikki” Brown, who works as a deputy clerk in Circuit Clerk Gail Wolfenbarger’s office, mostly won her appeal, in which she contested a three-day suspension without pay levied by Morse himself.
The hearing also touched on broader issues of courthouse security, county authority, and employee training policy, but after a six-minute Executive Session by the Justices, they unanimously lifted Brown’s suspension and vowed to restore her pay.
The genesis of the incident came from a July 31 incident, in which Brown was said to have let a non-employee into the Hempstead County Courthouse at 7:30 a.m. through a back door entry.
Although not specifically mentioned in the county employee handbook, the current county policy says that county employees are not supposed to let non-employees into the building through the backdoor, which is supposed to be an “Employees only” entry.
During Monday night’s hearing, the basic facts of the violation were not disputed by Brown, who admitted she made a mistake in helping the early arriver, and Morse. A courthouse security video also showed the man in the building sleeping on a bench in the hallway across from the courtroom.
Morse encountered the man after a county janitor had seen him and became frightened, and he ejected him from the building. Morse said security video had revealed that Brown had let him in through the back door.
The dispute, however, centered around Morse’s actions, in which is called both Brown and Wolfenbarger to his office, and after alleged yelling by Morse, he levied a three-day suspension without pay against Brown, who was otherwise documented as an exemplarily employee.
Among Brown’s contentions were that she was not an employee of Morse, Morse failed to consult with her direct supervisor, Wolfenbarger, and he conducted himself unprofessionally to both her and Wolfenbarger.
Morse said courthouse security was within his authority, and he saw the issue as one of security policy protocol, not “work-related performance,” which he conceded was within Wolfenbarger’s domain.
Morse also told the Quorum Court during testimony that he was upset over the episode, and he maintained that he was responsible for building security and the lives of the 50 employees and visitors.
After hearing testimony from both Brown and Morse, the Quorum Court, in which several of the Justices are employees of larger organizations with formal Human Resources protocol, had several questions and pointed comments of their own.
District 11 Keith Steed, who was the presiding officer over the hearing, said “What this tells me is that we have some real problems here; we have become too lax, and we are all responsible for allowing it.”
Justices Mikki Curtis and C. David Clayton questioned employee training practices and policies in the county. Sheriff James Singleton asked the Justices who was really responsible for security.
“I’ve got two officers in here that I spend $50,000 a year on in this place; if I am not responsible, then I am putting those officers out on the street where they can help the citizens in the county,” Singleton said.
Justice Lynn Montgomery had Steed read aloud the duties of the County Judge, but Morse countered saying the County Judges Association was been consistent in maintaining that the County Judges have authority to secure a courthouse.
Clayton said “We all know that is a lot of crap to be sorted out here; I see the issue as the Circuit Court Clerk losing three days of employee productivity, and the employee losing three days pay. I think the actions were too harsh.”
Morse said that if he had it to do all over again, he would have levied a one-day suspension rather than three, but he stood behind his initial reaction on security concerns.
After hearing testimony from both Brown and Morse, the Justices as a grievance committee when into an Executive Session, but they were back out in six minutes.
Steed, as presiding officer, announced a three-part statement by the Justices.
“One, we are lifting the suspension, and two, we are recommending a written warning, and three, we are ruling that she receive payment for time missed,” he said.
In concluding the statement, Steed said “This has been an eye-opener for everyone. We do not need to be letting people in through the back door, and as a Quorum Court, we need to find a solution that can be implemented for all county employees to follow.”
Approximately 25 persons, mostly other county department heads and employees, attended Monday night’s hearing.