Patterson council, mayor study work rules

Mayor Rodney Grogan

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

Comments before and after a City Council workshop Wednesday, hint that council members will put their stamp on a new policy and procedure handbook developed by Mayor Rodney Grogan — and the mayor appears to be open to some of their ideas.
City workers have long been “at will” employees in Patterson — they are hired and fired at the discretion of the mayor.
Councilman Joe Russo said he is not keen on the “at will” status. He said an experience during his first term tells him that type of power allows unfair treatment of employees and staff.
“If there is a problem, I believe employees should have due process … I can’t see where anybody should be fired without any reason,” Russo said.
Grogan said he does not believe in keeping employees in the “at will” status.
“I believe everybody should have due process. We should have an objective policy that can be used to make decisions,” the mayor said. “The ‘at will’ policy gives people too much power to do things on a subjective basis or just because they don’t like you.”
When the proposed handbook was discussed at the Nov. 5 council meeting, City Attorney Russel Cremaldi said if council members want city employees to be “at will” the policy manual needs to clearly state that intent.
If the “at will” status is retained, any suggested ways of handling grievances or discipline need to be understood as suggestions not as rights, he told them.
He again emphasized the need for a disclaimer at the workshop but added that does not preclude the Council from discarding the “at will” practice if that is its desire.
Russo said that if the “at will” policy is designed to be a defense against frivolous lawsuits filed by employees, the city can have just as adequate a defense with an established policy that is followed and then documented with a paper trail.
Councilwoman Sandra Turner asked about having a director of personnel to oversee the administration of personnel policies.
City Manager Dave Lowery said Patterson has about 30 non-police employees and is small enough to operate without a personnel director. He said the mayor can delegate that responsibility to anyone without having one person who is wholly assigned to that job.
Grogan said he has no problem with having a director of personnel if that is what the council decides is needed.
The Wednesday meeting was the first in what is expected to be several workshops on what to include in the city’s new employee policy and procedure handbook.
Lowery guided the workshop as the council reviewed a suggested manual based largely on the policies of St. Mary Parish government with modifications specific to the city. He asked council members to prepare for multiple workshops by the time the council meets for its next regular public meeting on Dec. 3.
Grogan has been working to get a new policy and procedure manual presented to the council for several months. Some of the new policies may be ready for the council to vote on at the Dec. 3 meeting, he said.
“It might be months before the policy and procedure manual is completed,” Grogan said. “But there are some issues that we can get a resolution on before having the manual completed.”
Grogan wants something in place for cell phone, credit card and vehicle usage for city employees, but this does not include police car use, an issue he said he is still researching.
“Some issues are not in our current manual or haven’t come up before,” Grogan said. “I am trying to be proactive in addressing them.”
The new manual is expected to additionally address issues such as social media and employee travel and expenses.
The Council agreed to hold the next workshop at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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