These days, residents are understandably uneasy when they open their doors to people they don’t know, says County Commissioner Wayne Dukes.
That’s why Dukes believes it is important for county employees to have recognizable uniforms with easily identifiable identifications when they knock at the door.
At Tuesday’s county commission meeting, Dukes brought it to the attention of his colleagues that at least one department official told her employees they could wear blue jeans or other casual attire.
“I have a problem with that,” Dukes said.
Dukes directed the county administrator to look into the matter and report back at the April meeting.
“These folks are going out on job sites, meeting the public,” Dukes said. “It’s important that if you’re going to come out and mingle with the public that it’s obvious who you are.”
Jodi Singer, operations manager for the county development department, confirmed that she and Building Official Frank Baxter have approved her employees to wear what she calls “business casual” attire — including blue jeans and polo shirts — instead of the standard-issue khaki pants and green or white shirt.
The department is attempting to transition away from the county’s uniform policy and create its own internal dress code to save employees and taxpayers’ money, she said. The county administrator continues to look into the change in policy, Singer said.
“We’re working on an internal dress code so we have some kind of consistency,” Singer said.
If it passes administration muster, other departments may break with the county’s uniform policy and consider other dress schemes.
Singer shares Dukes’ concern about proper decorum when dealing with the public and that’s why the employees, mainly affecting the six inspectors, must wear badges and have county-issued identification to show customers.
Singer said there is no reason for residents to be alarmed because, most times, inspectors visit job sites without contacting the public.
But on those instances where they do, such as a home inspection, they would have a previously scheduled appointment, arrive in a county vehicle and have to display proper ID, she said.
Hernando County’s uniform policy already gives department directors some latitude. It requires them to “identify the positions within their respective department for which the wearing of a uniform is required.”
“Department directors should ensure that uniforms are absolutely necessary,” the policy reads.
The policy said directors who require employees to wear uniforms must include money for them and replacement uniforms in their annual budgets.
Assistant County Finance Director Francis Pioszak said the IRS is vague when it comes to the definition of what constitutes street wear.
“The IRS has rules for everything and there are certain specific guidelines as to what is considered street wear,” she said.
Pioszak said she has submitted to the Internal Revenue Service a list of the county’s uniform descriptions and is awaiting guidance, specifically on whether the IRS includes the taxability of uniforms as an employee benefit.
Fernando Echevarria, federal, state and local government specialist for the IRS, said he knows of no legislation or tax code changes regarding uniforms looming for government entities.
Echevarria said the rules on county-issued uniforms can be complicated and the rules on whether they can be declared on taxes depends on whether their outfits can double as street clothes.
Echevarria said the mode of dress ultimately doesn’t matter as much as whether the employee has the proper identification.
While uniforms are more important in the law enforcement arena, it doesn’t hold the same weight in the clerical or government sphere, he said.
For example, anyone can purchase a pair of khaki pants or a green shirt and pass off as a building inspector, he said
“A garment of clothing does not identify you as any employee of any organization,” Echevarria said. “It’s the credentials you carry.”