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March 12, 2013

Officials debate jeans in courthouse

Miami County commissioners split on appropriate dress

— PERU — There’s a new hot-button issue inside the Miami County Courthouse, but it has nothing to do with budget cuts or new state legislation.

It’s about whether county employees can wear jeans to work.

County commissioners last week called all department heads to a meeting, where they discussed proper attire for workers inside the courthouse.

Commissioner Jerry Hamman criticized some employees for wearing clothing during the summer that he described as “more suitable to the beach or a picnic than a county government office.”

Hamman said he’s heard complaints about employees’ appearance, and he wanted to do away with casual Fridays, where workers are permitted to wear jeans. He said employees should wear business attire.

“I understand that casual Friday is a perk many of our county employees enjoy,” he said. “Unfortunately, the nature of the business that people conduct in this courthouse isn’t a reason for celebration. Being at the courthouse is like calling a police officer. People never call the police to have a cup of coffee or a piece of pie. People are here because they have a problem or a duty.”

That statement drew fire from Treasurer Becky Morris.

“What a black cloud you just put over our heads,” she said. “It’s like everything the staff in the courthouse is doing is bad. You’re taking away anything that might be a little bit fun. I’m concerned about the way this is being addressed.”

Commissioners met again Monday to discuss attire after county workers said they were confused after last week’s meeting about whether they could wear jeans to work.

Hamman said Monday he thought some employees were abusing casual Fridays and restated he wanted to ban jeans inside the courthouse.

“They carried it too far,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind it if we did it like a bank or school. But they’ve carried it too far ... You give them an inch, and they take a mile.”

Commissioners Josh Francis and Larry West, however, said they didn’t have problems with casual attire as long at it appeared professional.

West pointed out the current draft of the county employee handbook states workers only need to use good judgment and maintain high standards in cleanliness and dress that “create a favorable image.”

“My feeling is that we’re not saying employees can’t have casual Fridays,” he said. “We’re just asking them to be in compliance with the handbook.”

Francis agreed jeans and other clothing were fine as long as they look “nice and clean.”

“As long as they’re wearing appropriate things, I don’t have a problem with it,” he said, adding he has noticed some workers wearing ragged jeans. “But we need to make sure they’re wearing appropriate clothes.”

Commissioners then voted to send out a courthouse-wide memo stating employees could wear jeans to work but not T-shirts. Hamman voted against the motion. Francis and West voted for it.

Auditor Jane Lilley said she sent out the memo Tuesday afternoon.

Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He may be reached at 765-854-6739, or by email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.

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