By Ralph Echtinaw
City councilmen declined Tuesday to give five police officers a $1,000 bonus to head off a possible grievance over their treatment during the worst of the coronavirus restrictions.
The issue was brought to council’s attention after City Manager Kurt Giles learned of it from Police Chief Richard J. Ramereiz Jr., the police union president and business agent.
The officers are upset because they worked full time during April and May while other city employees got their full pay while working fewer hours. It’s also a bother to them that Sgt. Kristi Forshee, one of the union members, was allowed to work from home 2-3 days per week, which amounts to treating one union member differently from the others.
The administration proposed Tuesday that each of the five affected officers (including Forshee) be given $1,000 to head off a possible grievance. “This is something that both parties find acceptable,” Giles said.
Councilman Roger Collison said, “I don’t believe there was any merit for a grievance.”
“We didn’t think so either,” added Giles.
Councilman Tom Reed expressed concern about setting a precent that would lead other employees to “request the same thing.”
“I don’t think there’s a basis for anyone else to complain,” said Giles.
In the event that a grievance is filed, an arbitrator could penalize either party or both. Union representative Matt Van Hall has so far not respond with a comment to a Sentinel inquiry.
Reed said that someone should make a motion to authorize the bonuses so everyone can go on record.
But there was a long silence after Mayor James Kelly formally asked for a motion. Finally Reed made it and Bill Leonard supported it.
A roll call vote was taken, and everyone but Leonard voted to reject the bonuses for police officers.
Ironically, the officers may get $1,000 bonuses anyway but from a different source.
Two weeks ago Finance Director Bobbi Marr applied for a First Responders Hazard Pay grant that will give the officers $1,000 each, if approved.
Lunch hour closures
At the behest of Councilman Reed, the issue of closing the public service counter from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday was brought before the council Tuesday.
Reed wants to open the counter during lunch. “We’re service oriented, and we should be open to our constituents,” he said.
The counter has been closed for lunch since 2012. The reason is that there are three employees in that area, and the city has a policy that two must be present at all times.
“We don’t like to leave anyone alone with that much cash around,” Finance Director Marr said.
The problem is that when one of the three is out of the office the two remaining employees can’t take lunch because of the two-person rule.
“It’s not mandatory, but preferred to have more than one person working in the customer service area both for general safety and ‘internal controls purposes’ from an accounting standpoint,” said “Giles via email.
Councilman George Kubin suggested that a member of management could be the second employee present during the lunch hour. “From what I remember there was not much response to the idea,” he said via email on Thursday.
Kubin then backed off at the meeting. “I do think the program in place now has worth,” he said. “People have gotten used to it. I don’t think it causes a hardship.”
Leonard noted that most other municipalities close offices during lunch, too. “The public can work around it,” he said. “It is what it is.”
Like the police vote, this one was less than unanimous; unusual for a council that votes unanimously 99 percent of the time.
Reed and Collison voted yes but were overruled by Kubin, Leonard and Kelly, who voted no. So the public service counter remains closed from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.