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Changes sought for hiring process

Proposal to approve rehiring of vacant positions may violate Pulaski’s charter

 

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

Some council members want Pulaski Town Council to have the ability to give its stamp of approval before staff can refill job vacancies that arise.

However, town attorney David Warburton said at a recent work session that such action could conflict with the town charter. He said he wasn’t prepared to give a definitive answer at that time because he “surely didn’t see this question coming” prior to the meeting.

The suggestion came from Councilman Greg East during continued discussion of ways department heads could reduce their 2013-14 fiscal year budgets by 5, 10 and 15 percent.

East said he is concerned that a “common theme” among several budget reports has been to “quickly arrive at personnel cuts” when council “stated early on that’s not our objective.”

East proposed development of a “hiring evaluation process.” He said he didn’t want to call it a “hiring freeze.”

He and Vice Mayor Joseph Goodman said they would like for council to be able to meet with staff when vacancies arise to determine whether the positions need to be filled or existing staff be “cross utilized” to pick up those duties.

East said he would like to have “something that would allow us to be in the best possible position when it comes budget time to make this budget work without having to raise any taxes.” He added that the last place he wants to be at budget season is in a situation where goals can’t be reached without a reduction in workforce.

This isn’t to say we wouldn’t hire if somebody leaves. It says we will have a discussion and meeting of the minds” on how to best utilize personnel, he explained.

Goodman said he thinks that’s something that needs to be looked at because council doesn’t want to lose staff. He said the only question would be whether a position is automatically refilled when someone leaves or whether there is discussion before it is filled.

Councilman David Clark said in the seven years he has worked on town budgets, the staff has been reduced “a fairly large percentage.”

What you’re suggesting to do has been happening anyway,” he told East and Goodman. “As people have left through attrition, there are a lot of positions that haven’t been refilled; they’ve been absorbed within the departments.”

Town Manager John Hawley said four full-time positions council has authorized haven’t been filled over the past three years. He said the town charter would have to be changed if council wants to be able to hire and fire beyond the ones allowed in the charter.

East suggested a resolution could be passed stating that there is a hiring review process that involves council.

Both Warburton and Hawley said town council could use the budget to control staff levels. For example, Hawley said, council could choose to not fund a position within a department and effectively reduce the staff level.

Warburton pointed out the town has a “council, town manager” form of government that gives council the responsibility for hiring or firing three people: the town manager, clerk of council and town attorney; and for managing the town’s budget. He said he doesn’t think council can “micro-manage interdepartmental decisions.”

According to Warburton, council can impose a hiring freeze or budget reduction because those are budgetary issues. “But I don’t think you can make yourselves a personnel committee,” he added.

Goodman said council isn’t asking to controll the hiring or leaving of any specific employee, but rather to have input in the filling of a vacancy.

Hawley said he could give council a recommendation from the department head whether to fill or not fill each position that becomes available, but council could be getting requests every three to four weeks in some departments that have heavy turnover.

Warburton said council can specify how many employees each department can have and set their salary ranges and qualifications, but he’s not recommending it be done.

I can’t speak for anybody else around this table, but if you want to come over and watch me be town attorney, go ahead, knock yourself out,” Warburton told council.

He added, “I don’t know why you would want to micro-manage my office, but you can do it if you want. You know why? Because you’re paying for it. Every hour I’m on the clock for the town, if any one of you wants to watch me do it, bring it on.”

Warburton reiterated that council has the responsibility to budget, so, “You can pass a resolution that says if there is any vacancy it won’t be funded until council approves it. I’m not suggesting that’s a good or bad way of going, but you can do that if you choose to.”

East said his original question really was a budget question.

At the end of the day … this council has a very difficult position when it comes time to have a budget in place,” he said. “I’ll restate, the last thing we want to do is be in a position where we have to do an involuntary layoff.”

East said he doesn’t want council’s actions to be perceived as a “negative thing,” but rather a way to operate as efficiently as possible and “do what is, obviously, best for our staff, but more importantly the people we answer to and are morally responsible to and that’s the community.”

Asked whether the review would apply only to full-time positions, East said it would apply to “any positions.”

Goodman said he realizes such a process could cause difficulty for departments with frequent turnover. As a solution, he suggested Hawley notify council when a position is vacated and the position could automatically be filled unless two council members wish to review it.

With that type of system, Goodman said, department heads wouldn’t have to wait weeks to get approval from council to fill a position.

Parks and Facilities Manager Dave Hart questioned whether council really wants to take time to review all of the changes that could occur within his department – particularly with part-time employees, such as grounds maintenance, that has a high turnover.

Goodman responded that council is trying to figure out a way to “balance it.”

East said a hiring process change should be discussed further at a future meeting after the legal aspects concerning the charter have been ironed out.

Following some concerns expressed by Pulaski Police Chief Gary Roche (see related story), Goodman said staff probably should be told to continue as is for the time being, but expect a hiring freeze.

East said he doesn’t want council’s actions to be perceived as a “negative thing,” but rather a way to operate as efficiently as possible and “do what is, obviously, best for our staff, but more importantly the people we answer to and are morally responsible to and that’s the community.”

He noted that council is in an information gathering process so staff should continue to expect budget questions.

3 Responses to Changes sought for hiring process

  1. Town Resident

    September 25, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    After reading this article, it appears to me that council is micro-managing the town to a siffling point.

    I have a few suggestions for this group:

    1. Find businesses that will move into town and pay taxes and utilities. That will help the bottom line with your budget. That will help the employment opportunities within the town.

    2. You don’t have to look very far to see frivolous spending in the town. It is simply a matter of what you want to see versus what you are willing to overlook.

    3. Spend some time actually talking to the residents who elected you ladies and gentlemen. Our town is full of residents who have great ideas but feel a trip to a council meeting is a waste of time given the bickering that seems to be going on lately.

    I urge council members to look at themselves also. Are they taking advantage of their positions?

  2. david

    September 25, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Town resident,

    You took the words directly from my mouth. I will add number four to your list if you dont mind.

    4 – ELECT NEW OFFICIALS AND REPRESENTATIVES FOR THIS COMMUNITY. Officials that are not content with seeing outsourcing, residents leave, children leave after school for DEFINITE BRIGHTER FUTURES, and a group of people who are tired of Pulaski becoming a Ghost town. Get Officials that are not in the seat for the position, because it appears as if they are becoming much more content with NOTHING. NEW OFFICIALS or Pulaski is going to continue down this road of nothing until eventually, there will be just that!

  3. TT

    September 28, 2012 at 9:33 am

    I left Pulaski years ago and I remember there were pentiful jobs ex( Renfro and Pulaski Furn) and others that Pulaski has pushed away. Everytime I go back to the area to visit family businesses are gone and re-opened as new ones that eventually leave also…..You have to leave when you graduate because there is nothing there and you could fall into the youth there now….lots of pills and drugs and depending on the government to survive….