The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to form a task force that will consider drug and alcohol testing programs for county employees.
The task force proposal was approved unanimously, but only after a dispute between its sponsor, Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, and Supervisor Bruce Nestande on whether employees should be represented on the committee.
In calling for the study of drug testing, Wieder said she did not know if drug or alcohol abuse was a problem among county employees. But, she said, "the County of Orange is not an island, and our work force is not exempt from society's drug and alcohol problems."
Wieder's original proposal would have included on the task force only representatives of the county's Personnel Department, the Health Care Agency, the county administrative office and the county counsel's office.
Wieder said it "would be premature" to include employee representatives, since the committee's job was simply to determine whether drug testing was needed and whether it would be economically and legally feasible.
Nestande disagreed. "One of the greatest obstacles is that management goes ahead and does it (drug testing) without including the employees from the beginning," Nestande said.
The relationship between management and employees, he said, "doesn't always have to be adversarial."
Wieder Position Supported
County Personnel Director Russ Patton supported Wieder's position. He said the task force could get input from employees without formally including them in the group. Moreover, he said, the committee would have trouble choosing which employees' association should be represented. Seven different organizations represent the county's 12,000 employees.
"You don't want them in here, that's clear," Nestande said to Patton. "Maybe that's good policy. . . . But I want to hear from (Orange County Employees Assn. General Manager) John Sawyer."
Sawyer, whose organization represents about 6,500 county workers, told supervisors that he feared that a task force committee without employee representation would "go ahead and reach a conclusion and a policy and then want to talk about it." He asked that board members consult with employee groups before formally establishing the task force.
While supervisors did not heed that request, they did agree ultimately that an employees' representative should sit on the committee.
After the meeting, Sawyer said he first heard about Wieder's task force proposal Monday night and had not yet taken a firm position on drug testing.
"Without knowing more about it, I would be opposed to it," he said. "But I am open to having discussions on the problem."
Sawyer said he did not know of any widespread drug problems among county employees. "I have not done any work on this," he said.
The task force is scheduled to return with its recommendations in 90 days.