No single issue led to Lyon County Manager Dennis Stark to create a draft Protocol Manual. He just wanted to get ahead of any potential disputes.
So he created the manual, which covers everything from how commissioners should address one another to separation of responsibilities between commissioners and county staff.
The commission has twice voted to continue discussion of the manual, but Stark hopes it will be approved soon.
"This is just a template," he said. "Nothing is driving it. We're just laying some ground rules."
Stark said there is no substantive guide for commission and staff to look at to indicate what kind of activities or interaction is appropriate and what isn't.
Though much attention has been focused on the proposed Protocol Manual's reference to how participants in the county commission meetings should be addressed, there are many more points to ponder in the document.
One is a limiting of interaction between commissioners and county staff to questions about specific issues.
"The commissioners can still call county road manager Gary (Fried) about a road project," he said. "But if they call the road department on a daily basis or in an attempt to micromanage, that could be an issue."
Stark said these problems have not occurred in the past to his knowledge, but he wants to make clear specific responsibilities in case they do arise.
"This is the nice thing about being the new guy on the block," said Stark, who became county manager in October 2007. "I have no preconceived ideas or some of the history others have. It's a fresh start and a new way of looking at interactions."
The manual also states that commissioners are not to give orders to subordinates of the county manager, including department heads, administrative assistants, or anyone else.
"That would mean everyone," he said. "I work for them, commission and staff works for me, though our primary audience is the public and the county."
He said Lyon County's form of government dictates the commissioners set policy and staff administers it.
Commissioners would also have to go through the county manager to get information, to ensure that some information " such as personnel information " is not inappropriately given out, Stark said.
Stark said he was not aware of any instance where commissioners had sought private personnel information, intruded into administrative duties or tried to exert undue influence, but he wanted to prevent any problems in the future.
"I'm starting from scratch," he said. "Although history and background are important, we're trying to move forward and develop a set of standards."
Other issues covered by the proposed manual include orientation for new members, what staff and clerical support is available and the use of county equipment and technology.
Stark supports the concept of addressing commissioners, the public and staff at meetings with the more formal terms such as "Commissioner" "The Chair" or "Mr. or Mrs."
"If you start your comments with the respect due to the position and then relax a little bit there's nothing that says that is not appropriate," he said. "That is not intended to be 100 percent formal but at least acknowledge the position and show the respect in your initial dealings."
He said several commissioners have suggested changes to the manual.
"The bottom line is if it doesn't work for them, they don't need to approve it," he said.
"There's nothing in there that we want to force on the commission, or present to them that they're not comfortable with."
- Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-7351.