City policy faces changes

Published 6:17 pm Saturday, July 7, 2012

Washington’s City Council began its formal review of proposed changes to the city’s personnel policy during its June 25 meeting.

Some of those proposed changes wouldn’t be popular with some city employees, some council members noted. Some council members such as Richard Brooks indicated they would make it a priority to ensure a modified personnel policy is in the best interest of city employees.

Councilman Bobby Roberson, serving in his role as mayor pro tempore because Mayor Archie Jennings did not attend the meeting, said he was happy the draft with the proposed changes to the personnel policy was ready for discussion.

“I want to commend the manager. He said he’d do it at the end of the fiscal year, and I believe he’s right on target. So, I want to commend him about going through the process,” Roberson said.

City Manager Josh Kay provided an overview of the draft.

“There certainly is a lot of information to digest here. So, what I’d like to do is just hit on a couple major points of the proposed or recommended personnel policy that you have before you. … What I wanted to do was to get this to you all so you could start the review process, and that maybe we could schedule either a special meeting or have it at a committee of the whole meeting to have another more-thorough discussion once you’ve had time to read through it and have any questions or comments you may have,” Kay said.

Roberson made it clear he wanted the council to thoroughly review the draft.

“It’s one of the most important working documents that any municipality has — the personnel policy,” Roberson said. “I think, as council members, we need to spend some time on it to be sure that we’ve got all the items that are in it that we need to be addressing — that we have ample time to do that.”

Councilman Doug Mercer suggested that instead of reviewing the entire draft line by line, the city manager go over areas in the policy where he proposes changes be made and explain those proposed revisions.

“I’d like to hear your comments because you’re the one who’s worked with it the most,” Mercer said to Kay.

Brooks, a longtime advocate for city employees, questioned Kay about proposed changes to items such as longevity, merit and job-maturity pay. Brooks, who said it’s his understanding that longevity, merit and job-maturity pay may not be paid to city employees under specific circumstances, asked Kay to explain the recommended changes.

“If this council or any council doesn’t approve it in the budget, then it doesn’t exist, and so we didn’t want to say that you’re going to get it if it’s not in the budget to be given,” Kay said.

“On that article there, I think we really need to sit down and talk about that because if a person … comes to work for company, such as the city, they’re looking expectations of good things If they stay here five years and are looking for something and don’t get it, that’s a letdown,” Brooks responded. “I think we need to talk about that.”

Kay responded: “I’ll put it on the list to talk about.”

Councilman Edward Moultrie Jr. joined the discussion.

“I think if it’s in the policy, to me, it would be automatic, when we do our budget, that we need to allocate for longevity, if it’s in the policy.”

Brooks added: “If we can allocate money for other things, why not allocate money for our employees? It’s just me.”

Councilman Doug Mercer replied: “No one is saying you’re not going to allocate monies. It’s just saying there may come a time when things are so tight you don’t have those monies and you have to delete them for a year. We’ve done that in the past.”

Brooks responded. “Mr. Mercer … I’m not going to say that. All I’m saying is you can do other things to appropriate money. As there’s not a “may” before you, but when it comes to employees, there is a “may” before you. I’m just saying that we need to look at this more than what we’re looking at it now. … I would think the employees are more important than a ‘may.’ … They are the ones who carry the city, not these other things that get supported.”

The draft allows city employees to receive performance-based bonuses for the development and implementation of documented cost savings initiatives for the city. The objectives of these special bonuses are:

  • to stimulate and reward employees for initiative and creative thinking that leads to a reduction in operating costs;
  • to provide a means for recognizing individual ideas and contributions to the city government;
  • to provide an opportunity to simplify work methods and operation and to improve services, safety and health; and
  • to improve service and reduce government costs to the citizens of the City of Washington.

The draft allows for city-owned vehicles to be driven to employees’ homes under the following provisions:

  • Nonemergency personnel — there are occasions when city employees, because of their job requirements, need to be provided city-owned vehicles in order to provide for the orderly and efficient operation of city functions. These positions will be recommended to and approved by the City Council during its annual budget approval.
  • Emergency personnel — to provide emergency services outside of the normal workday, public-service and police and fire-service employees may be allowed to use a city-owned vehicle to commute to and from their residences during the time that the employee is scheduled for call-back times.

The draft specifies that at no time shall an employee living more than 20 road miles from the city limits be allowed to drive a vehicle home.

Mercer, during past council meetings, has indicated he believes the policy regarding use of city-owned vehicles needs modifications. Mercer has questioned the need for some city employees to be able to drive city vehicles to their homes overnight.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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