Council tightens nepotism policies

Aug. 27, 2013 @ 03:31 PM

Last September, Monroe City Council commissioned a report by Parker, Poe, Adams & Bernstein to evaluate the relationship between city council and the city manager. 

The study found, among other things, that there was an issue with respecting the council/manager form of government established in the city’s charter. 

“While some council members are comfortable with entrusting the city manager with the administration and management of the city, others are relucatant to cede that authority to the city manager,” the report stated in the findings of fact section. “Some on the council routinely interface with the city manager and staff on policy implementation.” 

The study, based on interviews with staff and council members, also gave 11 recommendations. City Attorney Terry Sholar presented a few of those recommendation to city council during a meeting Tuesday night. 

A few of the recommendations required a vote, while others were personnel-related, to be implemented by the city manager. 

One item that required the council’s vote was accepting the resignation of former city manager Wayne Herron and ratifying his severance payment, which was suggested by the report. 

The resolution passed 4-3, with Council members Dottie Nash and Billy Jordan and Mayor Bobby Kilgore voting in opposition.

The other vote was for an ordinance dealing with city council’s impact on the hiring process. 

The Parker Poe report stated that “The pervasiveness of individual council member involvement in personnel decisions has created belief among some city staff that the city’s hiring process has been relinquished to several members of the city council.”

The ordinance states that unless it is a position hired by city council, council members cannot attempt to influence the process directly or indirectly. They can inform potential candidates of an opening and refer candidates to the human resources office, but they may not make recommendations on behalf of candidates or attempt to influence the process. They also may not try to influence decisions regarding current employees, like demotions, pay raises, reprimands and other personnel matters.

One of the findings of fact in the Parker Poe report was that nepotism exists within the city. 

The ordinance also addresses nepotism, banning the initial hiring of immediate family members of the mayor or council members while they are in office. Current employees related to council members would be grandfathered in. The ordinance defines immediate family as “a spouse, mother, father, guardian, child, sister, brother, grandparents, grandchild, plus the various combinations of half, step, in-laws and adoptive relationships that can be derived from those named.” 

The vote for the ordinance was 4-3, with Kilgore, Nash and Jordan opposing. However, the bill did not receive a “super-majority” and therefore requires a second reading before being enacted. 

One of the recommendations in the Parker Poe report was that “an anti-nepotism policy should be implemented which clearly outlines the city’s rules and expectations regarding the employment of relatives and close associates within the city. It should recognize the opportunity to refer qualified candidates to the HR office.” 

Another recommendation was to develop “appropriate guidelines” for council on how to properly respond to inquiries about job opportunities, compensation, promotions and other personnel matters. The report also recommended training for council on these procedures to avoid any improper interference. 

Before Sholar made his presentation, City Manager John D’Agostino made a few remarks to the council. He said that he has been meeting with staff members over the past two months and they are dedicated to the task of moving the city forward. He added that a common theme among the people he spoke with was for the council to respect the manager’s decisions. 

D’Agostino said that he values the opinion of the council and will seek input, but the final decision is with the manager. 

“Staff will need your support and I must earn your trust,” D’Agostino said. 

He said the sentiment of the staff and himself is “can’t we all just get along?” Adding that they need to put the city first. 

“I invite you to join with me to heal our past” and move forward, D’Agostino said. 

Sholar also presented council with personnel policies to be implemented by the city manager. The council did not vote on these policies, because the city manager sets human resources policies, however, input was welcomed. 

The first human resources policy dealt with employing relatives. Sholar said that in 1992, the policy was that family members could not work in the same unit. In 2006, the policy was amended to state that family members could work in the same department, but there could be no direct supervision. 

The new policy reinstates the 1992 iteration, where family members cannot work in the same department. Current employees would be grandfathered in. 

Council member John Ashcraft asked how the policy compared to other municipalities of their size. Sholar said it depends and varies from city-to-city. However, he said most local cities have their current policy. 

Another human resources policy dealt with the hiring process, noting that unless the position is hired by city council, they cannot participate or attempt to influence the hiring process. The change to HR 5 also says that immediate family members cannot work in the same department and also prohibits the initial hiring of immediate family members of the mayor, city council members, the city manager, assistant city manager, city attorney or human resources director.

Sholar also introduced a new human resources policy banning the tape recording of employees by other employees without their prior knowledge. This policy was recommended in the Parker Poe report. The policy states that the city manager can authorize recordings if an investigation is required. 

Council member Margaret Desio asked if this would also include council members recording employees. Sholar said no because it is a personnel policy. 

Sholar said those five items were all for that night, but there could be more as time goes on. Sholar also said he would be willing to hold meetings with council to review the state charter and its definition of a council/manager form of government.