Can employees have guns in their cars? Commissioners say no

Missaukee County commissioners were sworn in on Thursday for their new terms. Dean Smallegan, left, and Frank Vanderwall, right, are in the foreground.

LAKE CITY — In a close vote Thursday evening, Missaukee County commissioners rejected a more lenient employee gun policy.

It came down to an issue of liability, according to commissioners who voted against the proposal.

“If an employee of the county did something untoward, who is going to be responsible?‘ Pamela Niebrzydowski said. Even an employee acting with good intentions might injure an innocent person.

"I feel pretty strongly about this liability thing," she said.

For other commissioners, it was more personal.

They know the employee who requested a policy revision and trust him, they said.

And some commissioners were concerned about personal liberties.

"We keep whittling away at our rights," Hubert Zuiderveen said.

Commissioner Frank Vanderwall said the policy shouldn't be based on one individual.

“You’ve got to feel good about any employee having this right,‘ Vanderwall said.

County Administrator Precia Garland told commissioners the policy is up to them, but that legal counsel had reviewed the policy before it passed in September. The policy was based on other counties' policies. Banning employees from having guns on county property was considered a best practice, she said.

Allowing firearms on the premises would probably lead to more liability, Garland said.

In September, commissioners approved a "violence in the workplace" policy that banned employees from having guns on county property. A Missaukee County employee protested the rule and the safety committee later took up the issue.

The committee examined a so-called "trunk policy" that would allow employees to keep guns in their personal vehicles parked on county property so long as the gun is locked up and out-of-sight. Otherwise, employees who want to use their weapons after work while hunting or at a gun range would either have to go home first to get the weapon or park farther away, off county property.

The safety committee voted not to recommend the policy change, deciding to keep the plan in place.

On Thursday, commissioners voted on it themselves, with Star Hughston, Dean Smallegan and Zuiderveen voting to adopt the more permissive policy. But Vanderwall, Niebrzydowski, Roger Ouwinga and Lan Bridson voted to reject the gun policy revision and the proposal failed.

Bridson initially asked if he could abstain, stating he didn't feel ready to vote and wanted to think about it more. But he was told he could not abstain.

Zuiderveen indicated that he might bring the issue up again on Tuesday during the county's regular board meeting.