Aldermen vote to reject work session on political rights of city employees

Duchild cites language discrepancies on political activity in three documents

By EVAN YOUNG

An effort to foster discourse about the political rights and restrictions of Crestwood employees failed to win aldermanic approval last week.

The board voted 6-2 Jan. 26 to reject Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild’s request for a work session to discuss and reach an agreement on how politically active Crestwood employees can be.

Ward 1 Aldermen Mimi Duncan and Darryl Wallach; Ward 2 Aldermen Jeff Schlink and Chris Pickel; and Ward 4 Aldermen Deborah Beezley and John Foote voted against the motion. Duchild and fellow Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel voted in favor of it.

Duchild said he was concerned about language discrepancies within the employee political activity sections of three city documents: the Crestwood Charter, the civil service rules and regulations and the memorandum of understanding with Local 2665 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The charter’s political activity section states: “No city employee shall solicit any contribution for the campaign fund of any candidate for Crestwood city office or take part in the political campaign of any candidate for Crestwood city office. All employees may exercise their right as private citizens to express opinions and if a qualified voter in Crestwood, to sign a nominating petition for any city candidate and to vote in any city election.

“Political affiliation, participation or contribution shall not be considered in making any city employment decision. No city officer, employee or member of a board or commission shall use official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or nomination for Crestwood city office. No city officer, employee or member of a board or commission shall directly coerce, attempt to coerce, command, advise, or solicit a city employee to pay, lend or contribute anything of value to a committee, organization, agency or person for political or electoral purposes of any candidate for Crestwood city office.”

Under the civil service rules, city employees “are encouraged to exercise their right to vote, but no employee shall make use of city supplies, uniforms, logos, time or equipment to aid a political candidate, political party or political cause, or use a city position to persuade, coerce or intimidate any person in the interest of a political candidate, political party or political cause.

“City employees may not participate in, or assist any candidate for, election to city office except by individual ballot. Any employee may, however, participate or contribute to the election or appointment of public officials to offices outside the political jurisdiction of the city of Crestwood.”

The MOU with Local 2665 contains the same language regarding political activity as the first paragraph within the civil service rules, minus the words “supplies, uniforms, logos.” Crestwood’s Civil Service Board recently voted to recommend aldermen change the civil service rules so the document’s political activity section mirrors that of the charter.

But Duchild said, “I see a need that we should reconcile all three of these documents. What is the best means to do that?”

City Administrator Jim Eckrich was absent from last week’s board meeting, but City Attorney Rob Golterman told Duchild that he and Eckrich had been mulling the issue for some time.

“As an aside, the former city administrator negotiated the last firefighters’ memorandum, and it was at that point that the language kind of went off course,” Golterman said of the current MOU, which was negotiated in 2006 during the tenure of Eckrich’s predecessor, Frank Myers.

He said the city currently was negotiating a new MOU with Local 2665 and planned to request that the current MOU’s political activity section be substituted with the charter’s language.

“Once we get to that base point, then we believe the issue is: Does the Board of Aldermen want to go further and try and define or provide guidance to employees as to what they can and cannot do based on what the charter says? That’s probably the second step,” Golterman said. “But we are in the process of attempting to have all of the language related to political activity be the same.”

The discussion at last week’s board meeting coincidentally came only one day after the Florissant City Council unanimously approved a bill prohibiting city employees from working for any political campaigns. However, Duchild said he had requested a discussion of the three Crestwood documents be placed on the board’s Jan. 26 agenda before the Florissant legislation came to light.

Mayor Roy Robinson said the two cities didn’t have the same rules governing employee political activity.

“Florissant doesn’t have the requirements that we do in the city,” he said. “We’re already under the guidance of the state statutes and our charter. Our people are not allowed to do certain things, and some things they’re allowed to do, such as vote, all that stuff. Florissant I think had a lot of … things that weren’t covered by the rules and that’s the reason why they did that. Probably got a lot of complaints.”

Pickel reiterated that the city already was working to fix the discrepancies within its documents.

“If I understood the city attorney correctly, any concerns that Alderman Duchild and the others are raising are already being addressed,” he said. “So I would suggest that we just let the process play out and not spend a lot of time tonight talking about it.”

But Duchild advised the board to reach a consensus about employee political activity in general before having to make a final decision on a new MOU.

“What if that comes back to the board and the board fundamentally disagrees with the new language or the interpretation of the new language, things like that?” Duchild said. “At this point I think the Board of Aldermen should be involved — or have a seat at the table, if you will — regarding what we want this to look like in the end.

“Do we want to go lift restrictions and let the employees do whatever they want? Or do we want to protect the employees by having restrictions in there. I think this is the time to start talking about that.”

Golterman replied, “You can’t let them do anything they want because the charter says there’s a lot of things they can’t do. So we can’t change the charter. And historically the Board of Aldermen has not gotten involved in negotiating with the firefighters’ union. If we’re going to change that course of action, then we probably should let the firefighters union know that, because they will be surprised.

“Again, the charter is the overriding, overarching document. If we’re going to have different language in different parts of different documents, to me I think that just opens us up for interpretation problems. But if the Board of Aldermen wants to get involved in identifying what the firefighters’ agreement should look like, that’s up to the board.”

Duchild clarified that he wasn’t suggesting the board get directly involved with negotiations.

“What I’m suggesting is this board should come to the conclusion of how political activity should look in the city of Crestwood before we go negotiating with the firefighters’ union or changing the civil service rules or things of that matter,” he said.

“And the charter can be changed through a charter amendment. So that could be up for discussion also, to help clarify things,” Duchild added. ‘So I think we need that, and I don’t want to be so far down the process that the aldermen feel like they have to vote one way or another on it because all this work’s been done. I’d like a seat at the table now on this.”

Robinson asked, “Well why can’t you come in … with a recommendation?”

“Well I’m asking the other aldermen if they’re interested in doing that,” Duchild replied. “I’m mean, I’ll be happy to provide my recommendations, but in a formal setting, I’d like to do that, like a work session-type setting, and that’s what I would propose we do.”

The mayor said he “certainly would never call a work session” for negotiating a new MOU.

“I said I do not want to negotiate a memorandum of understanding,” Duchild said. “I want to talk about political activity.”

Pickel said he believes the city’s documents should be consistent, but as for charter amendments, he added he wasn’t “prepared to go down that road.”

“I don’t know that there’s been any concern necessarily with political activity of employees or other officials of the city,” he said. “And I don’t know why this issue is coming up now. So I would not support any type of charter amendment at this point.”