Archived Story

Council ponders proposed policy changes

Published 9:30pm Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Some Washington City Council members are taking a closer look at some proposed wording changes to the city’s personnel policy.
Those changes center on the use of the following words: shall, should and may. Those council members are worried that using the wrong word or words in the policy could prevent some city employees from receiving perks such as longevity pay.
During their meeting Monday, council members agreed to further review the matter and be prepared to discuss more it at the council’s March 11 meeting, when the revised policy could be adopted by the council.
Councilman Richard Brooks, long a champion for city employees, said he believes the word “shall” should be used instead of “should” or “may” when it comes to salary adjustments and some incentives and perks for city employees, especially long-term employees. Those employees should be able to expect those incentives and perks and not have to rely on a supervisor deciding whether they get them, Brooks said.
“To me ‘may’ and ‘should’ represent the same thing. You may give it to me. You should give it to me, but something could happen that you don’t give it to me,” Brooks said. “I think the wording ‘shall’ should stay because, for one, big, most-important reason to me is, when you have people who are working for you, they need to have something to say that they will get thus and such, not ‘should’ or ‘may.’ This kind of leaves it open to … the City Council at the time of the city manager at the time whether they get these different things. I don’t think we should do that to the employees.”
City Manager Josh Kay said using the word “shall” in the personnel policy could be construed as a contractual obligation between the city and its employees. The personnel policy is a guideline, not a contract between the city and its employees, he said.
Brooks found an ally on the council.
“I find comfort and safety in the ‘shall’ versus ‘should.’ Ordinarily, we should do this. … I find assurance in the word ‘shall,’” said Councilman Ed Moultrie.
Mayor Archie Jennings said the city must balance its desire to provide incentives and perks to city employees with advice it’s receiving from Robin Davis, the labor-law attorney advising the city on revisions to its personnel policy.
“Because I understand, for instance, Councilman Moultrie where you gain greater comfort from that, and I fully understand that, but at the same time we draw great comfort from being in line with our attorney’s recommendation, so we’ve got to balance those two.”
Council member William Pitt said the revised policy is a flexible one and can be changed should that need arise.
“By in large, I think this document had done everything we asked the manager and the staff to do when we discussed this earlier,” said Councilman Doug Mercer, adding that some word changes may be needed to better clarify the policy’s intentions.

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