BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – City leaders have balked, on a couple tie votes, at approving a personnel manual that governs employee benefits. However the changes defined in the manual are already in place.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Fort Madison City Council, amendments to the personnel manual were presented for a vote by the council, but when the motion was put up for discussion, Councilman Bob Morawitz asked why the council hadn’t seen a copy of the changes.
City Finance Director Peggy Steffensmeier said the manual went in front of the city’s personnel attorney and it has been discussed with city staff, but the plan has been in place since the fiscal year began July 1. She said staff originally wanted to get the manual in front of the council in June, but the process had taken longer than expected.
Morawitz asked City Manager David Varley what kind of changes were in place and Varley listed such changes as sick hour accrual limits, family sick leave, bereavement days, adjustments on uniform reimbursements, adjustments in overtime calculations, compensatory time changes, among other changes.
The manual also eliminates executive leave for those who are exempt from overtime, such as department heads, who were previously allowed seven days compensatory time.
Morawitz then questioned who had reviewed the changes, specifically the overtime changes.
“This was never brought before the council. We didn’t know anything about this and it wasn’t in our packet.”
Varley said he was bringing it in front of the council now.
Morawitz said he didn’t agree with how the process was handled and would vote against the changes.
After a brief discussion on vacation accrual, Morawitz made a motion to table the resolution until the council could see a report outlining the changes.
That motion resulted in a tie, with Morawitz, newly sworn in 3rd Ward Councilman Matt Mohrfeld, and Rusty Andrews voting in favor of the motion and Chris Greenwald, Mark Lair, and Chad Cangas voting against it. As a tie, the motion failed. Then the council voted on whether to approve the new manual, which also failed along the same votes. Councilman Kevin Rink was absent.
Steffensmeier said the manual changes were discussed with employees in departments, but Mohrfeld said he would rather see a summary.
“It sounds like you were fairly thorough. I am going to have to echo a comment that was made. I’m a little uncomfortable voting on that without review. I wouldn’t mind seeing a summary of the details on this,” Mohrfeld said.
Mohrfeld, who now replaces Travis Seidel in the Third Ward, asked if the changes were already implemented, to which City Finance Director Peggy Steffensmeier said, yes, to a murmur from the handful of residents in attendance.
“Isn’t that problematic?” Mohrfeld asked
Varley said the manual changes have been underway for a while as a result of the Chapter 20 changes at the state level that pulled bargaining rights from public employees. He said the manual was run by city personnel attorney Pat O’Connell to verify state and federal compliance.
“They are no longer allowed to bargain for a lot of things they used to be able to and now it’s pretty much restricted to wages,” Varley said. “What we did was went through and took what was in their contract and moved the benefits covered into the personnel manual.”
Fort Madison Community School District went through the same undertaking with their teacher benefits after the law changed.
“Our goal was to make it as fair and consistent as possible across all departments. It’s impossible to do all because state law treats police and fire differently,” Varley said. “Overall, the cost to the city is going to be a little higher now. But overall we think the employees in the policy manual will be equal to or better off than when they were under the contract. That’s why were doing this. 66% of employees are not union members.”
Mayor Brad Randolph asked how often the manual gets reviewed and Varley said either by city review every three to five years or a change in state or federal law that needs adopted into the manual.
Councilman Rusty Andrews said the manual has been a topic of conversation with employees who’ve brought it up to him and asked if he had seen it yet.
“It’s been worked on for quite a while so I believe it’s thoroughly done,” he said. “But when city employees come to me and ask me about it… If it was disbursed to council I think it would be a good idea,” Andrews said.
City Public Works Director Larry Driscoll asked if the policy manual isn’t approved would the adjustments take place.
“Well, we can go back and take away the money I guess if they don’t want to approve it tonight,” Varley said. “Take away the money we started July 1, the additional you get for getting a CDL because we increased that 90-cents per hour. If the council wants to take that away from employees and make that retroactive we can do that. But there’s quite a few instances of changes like that.”
“I think the ask is that they would have liked to have seen the contents of the changes to get a little more time to understand that. I don’t dispute it, it sounds like you met with respective parties and got input,” Randolph said.
Steffensmeier said she had hoped to have the manual before the council sooner.
“We thought this was going to go to you guys before June,” she said. “The attorney didn’t get it done. We wanted our employees to know that we were doing this in good faith so we went ahead and did it.”
“I don’t think we need to deconstruct the entire thing just because it wasn’t handled well,” Cangas said.
Randolph asked Varley if the city would keep going in the same direction financially, to which Varley said it would.
After the meeting, when asked how the city could continue to administer benefits according to a manual that didn’t pass council approval, Randolph said the city is going forward in good faith with its employees. He said the issue will probably be reintroduced as an agenda item at a future council meeting.