Wright County Board adopts employee technology use policy

It’s hard to imagine life these days without the advancements in technology that have proliferated society in recent years. From smart phones to computer tablets to social media, the advancements in technology have changed how people live their daily lives.

At the Feb. 12 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners were presented with an update to the county’s personnel policy to incorporate an employee policy toward emerging technology and its acceptable uses in the workplace.

Information Technology Director Bill Swing presented the board with the proposed language to the new section of the personnel policy, which was last updated in 2004 – when pay phones were still available and most cell phones were simple flip phones that didn’t offer Internet access. Swing said there were many changes that needed to be incorporated into the new policy.

“Clearly, much has changed over the last several years,” Swing said. “Our old policy only dealt with computers and telephones. This policy has three basic components – network security, data protection and employee productivity.”

The crux of the new policy is to make it clear to employees that technology provided by the county is to be used only for county business and that the responsibility of protecting the county’s network data falls on department heads to make sure their employees don’t abuse the system or use company time to surf the web on their mobile devices.

“Technology is always changing quickly and our policy has to keep up with that,” Swing said. “For example, we’ve never had a social media policy before. So we have to make additions and updates as new technologies emerge.”

With any part of the technology used on devices that are property of the county, the policy includes language that allows department heads the right to monitor and inspect all information systems used by employees with or without notice – including email, Internet use history, phone usage and camera surveillance.

While it may sound a bit like Big Brother, Swing said the purpose of the system is to protect the county’s mobile devices, computers, applications and data while maximizing employee productivity when using technology.

While it had been nine years since the policy was last updated and the new section added, Swing said it will likely be an ongoing policy that will be amended often as technological advancements change how business is being done and how technology impacts county employees when they are on the clock.

“I could see us coming back every two years or so (to make additions to the policy),” Swing said. “So much of our business and our lives are being impacted by technology advances and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”

The board approved the policy change by a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Charlie Borrell voted against approving the policy because, after asking Swing if department heads that will be asked to enforce the rules of the policy had been given a chance to review the policy and was told “no,” was the dissenting vote. He said that he wouldn’t support the change unless the department heads were, at a minimum, given a chance to read the policy and comment if they saw fit before it was implemented. By that time, a motion and second were already on the floor and the motion passed 4-1.

In other items on the Feb. 12 agenda, the board:

• Replaced Commissioner Mike Potter on the Wright County Economic Development Partnership by Borrell. Potter had requested to be the board member on the WCEDP, but the meetings almost always were in direct conflict with meetings of the Region 7W Transportation Committee. Potter said his work on the Region 7W committee was more vital and asked to be replaced on the WCEDP.

• Received the annual feedlot report from Tracy Janikula. The county’s inventory of animal feedlots numbers more than 500. There are currently 110 registered dairy farm feedlots in the county – down from 150 in 2000 when the program began and down from 130 just four years earlier.

• Authorized board attendance at the Association of Minnesota Counties Local Government Legislative Conference March 20-21 in St. Paul.

• Approved a streamlined bid letting process for highway department road projects during a given year to shorten the process of bidding, awarding bids and getting construction projects started.

• Rescheduled a closed personnel committee of the whole meeting for 3 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 20 due to a scheduling conflict with the outside counsel hired by the county. An unnamed department head has had complaints leveled that have required outside counsel to be employed to represent the county’s interests in the matter.

• Scheduled a personnel committee of the whole meeting prior to the Feb. 19 board meeting to discuss the newly-created human resources director position.

• Referred to the building committee discussion of the length of contracts that the county currently has with outside companies that have been ongoing and might be subject to a competitive bidding process. Several county contracts have been in existence for years and the commissioners would like to see an inventory of such agreements to see if it is in the county’s best interest to remain with the current vendor or to open up bids to others. The goal was to attempt to get more contracts done with firms within Wright County if they can make competitive bids.

• Approved a service agreement with Motorola for the infrastructure of the county’s 800 MHz emergency radio system.

• Accepted the 2012 parks department annual report.

• Scheduled a technology committee of the whole meeting for 10:30 a.m. following the March 5 board meeting. Items to be discussed include the 2013 technology plan and the potential of streaming county board meetings live on the Internet.

• Approved two citizen appointments to the extension committee – Potter’s appointment of August Otto as a full member and Julie Pell as the at-large youth member appointment.

• Set a ditch committee of the whole meeting for 10:30 a.m. following the Feb. 26 board meeting to discuss how to most efficiently spent a $53,000 grant for ditch modernization. The proposal to be discussed would be transferring ditch records – most in paper document form – to be available on the Internet at the county’s website.

Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.