City’s decree: Not so fast!What started as an agreement gave way to official action as the City Council voted Tuesday to establish a hiring and replacement policy.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
What started as an agreement gave way to official action as the City Council voted Tuesday to establish a hiring and replacement policy.
The policy says the city won’t fill any vacant or new positions without the council first approving the hire, including full-time, part-time and temporary workers.
During budget talks late last year, the city decided to reconcile a $327,000 deficit by disallowing “automatic rehire” and analyzing each open job. Members acknowledged that the city would not fill some positions.
The agreement surfaced at the Feb. 10 meeting when Council Member Bob Ebert referenced the budget-time discussions.
“I agree in principle with this (agreement),” he said.
Ebert said he expected further discussion or a motion. He had planned at that time to suggest that the council somehow let department heads know what it expects to see in its reviews.
Ebert pointed out that since agreeing to look at open jobs, the council had OK’d filling three positions but went about the approvals differently.
The first two, a library aide and library page (person who re-shelves books), passed with zero discussion. The third, a planning intern, drew scrutiny and a barrage of questions.
Council members asked Community Planning Director Buddy Lucero to define duties, document what other interns had accomplished and reduce the hours requested.
Said Ebert: “The issue that I have is that we don’t have any criteria or guidelines for when the next position comes up.”
He said it would be good for the council to know what would happen if the job wasn’t filled and how those duties would be absorbed.
Mayor Don Richards agreed that Ebert raised a legitimate issue and the council should require the same explanation from all seekers.
The council discussed making an “even playing field” for all who want to fill a position.
Council Member Tom Caflisch didn’t agree and said it would be impossible for department heads to do what is being asked and that some of it can’t be determined ahead of time.
He accused Ebert of not having much hiring experience and countered that some information about the open positions already goes into each council member’s meeting packet.
He said the department heads shouldn’t be in charge and that if River Falls did not hear favorably from the state about shared revenue, no jobs would be filled or refilled.
Council Member Mike Woolsey agreed with Ebert and Richards.
“Let’s have some structure in how we do this,” Woolsey said. “We have to convey our expectations to staff.”
Council Member Jim Nordgren said he agrees that the two library positions passed easily while the planning intern bore the “brunt” of the council’s new efforts.
Council Member Joleen Larson said, “I think we need a little more information, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking the department heads for it.”
The new policy says: “In consideration of the current downturn in the U.S. economy and the effects locally, it is the City Council’s desire to review all requests to add new positions or fill vacant positions prior to approval to hire…” It defines the six items council members want to see in making their decisions: Job description for the position; annual cost including pay and benefits; short- and long-term impacts to city services if the job isn’t filled; contracting options and costs; information about available grants; and ideas about how to eliminate redundancy.
Council Member David Cronk said about the new policy, “I think a lot of that will be handled by the city administrator.”
The council discussed what jobs the policy affects. Would it apply to essential city services like police, utility line workers, the new fire chief? The consensus was yes.
Caflisch still didn’t see the value in making the agreement into an official policy. He mentioned a decreased market and lower valuation, saying the city will need a layoff policy instead.
He said, “I don’t know how we can continue like this.”
Woolsey pointed out that the hiring and replacement policy contains some of the same questions the city might ask if it did have to lay off workers. He said it would be good to have guidelines if that time ever comes.
Additional language was added to the policy to include the recommendations of new City Administrator Scot Simpson, who starts his job here in coming weeks.
Police Chief Roger Leque helped draft the policy and, by chance, is also one of first two managers responding to it.
He asked the council Tuesday to hire a 25-hour-per-week community service officer; a temporary full-time officer to fill in for Denton Anderson, who will soon leave for military service; and two reserve officers, which he says are essential for River Falls’ events.
Public Works Director Lanny Gleason also requested six part-time staff members to work a 16-week period during the summer to handle duties like cutting weeds, maintaining the city pool, repairing and keeping up park buildings, caring for multiple planter beds in medians throughout the city, setting and cleaning up for city festivals like River Falls Days, stocking and cleaning park restrooms, painting street stripes, caring for softball and soccer fields, cleaning storm-sewer grates, and patching potholes.
Leque said Monday that everyone is feeling the pain from this economic downturn.
In responding to the new policy’s questions, he tried to make suggestions that would save money while maintaining the level of service the community expects.
The hiring requests made by Leque and Gleason were approved by council members Tuesday night.