The overpayment of a Porter County maintenance employee, to the tune of nearly $17,000, has prompted a lot of finger-pointing among county officials wondering how this happened and how it went undetected so long.
Attorney Scott Wagenblast, representing employee Julian Adames, is suggesting "pre-suit mediation" to resolve the overpayment problem before a lawsuit is filed. That's the proper first step.
Wagenblast's letter is in response to a Feb. 14 letter from County Council President Dan Whitten and Vice President Karen Conover that said, "We will work through any reasonable plan to rectify the overpayment."
Fair enough. It won't be easy to fix, but it can and should be resolved.
That addresses the acute problem but not the chronic one. How did this happen? And how can it be prevented from happening again?
Adames was expecting a raise that wasn't authorized. Also complicating the salary administration was that half his $35,250 salary comes from the Board of Commissioners for work at the sheriff's department and half from the Expo Center.
A computer error in his favor — reminiscent of the Monopoly game's Community Chest card — had him collecting double his Expo Center salary and $658 less than the proper amount from the commissioners' half of his annual salary.
This should have been detected earlier, but the various checks and balances failed. So now the money needs to be recovered, either through direct payments from the employee or by reduced future paychecks.
But out of all of this, Councilwoman Karen Conover pointed to a way the county should address future compensation and other employee issues — hire a human resources professional to deal with them.
With a workforce as large as the county's — around 750 employees — it is folly not to have a human resources officer on staff.
An HR pro might or might not have caught this particular mistake, but would be an asset to the county in many other ways.
Conover and her fellow council members, along with the county commissioners, should properly fund and add an HR professional to the county's payroll.
Bring professionalism to the county's employment practices.