Changes to civil service rules tabled until Tuesday by Crestwood aldermen

By EVAN YOUNG

Crestwood aldermen will wait until their next meeting to consider changing the city’s civil service rules after it was noted not all of them had copies of the current document for last week’s meeting.

The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously Aug. 11 to table until Tuesday a decision on whether to proceed with modifying the Civil Service Rules and Regulations. The seven amendments were recommended by City Administrator Jim Eckrich and approved by the Civil Service Board on July 22.

Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel said he was concerned about some of the revisions as proposed and later asked if his fellow aldermen had the current civil service rules with them. Seeing that not all of them did, Miguel motioned to hold the issue for two weeks to give the board more time to weigh the revisions against the current rules.

One of those changes would reduce the Civil Service Board’s meeting requirements to “annually” from “the first Tuesday in March, June, September and December.”

Miguel said he would prefer the board meet “at least quarterly” because “annually seems to minimize the importance of the board.”

The alderman also took issue with a change to the civil service rules’ section on city employees’ political rights and restrictions in Chapter 2 because he believes it conflicts with the City Charter.

As previously reported, the first statement of that civil service rules section — which prohibits employees from using city resources or their position to contribute to or influence a political campaign, party or cause — would remain intact. The modifications begin in the following two sentences, which currently read, “City employees may not participate in, or assist any candidate for, elections 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 proposed revision removes the first sentence completely and changes the second to read, “Any employee may, however, participate in or contribute to a political candidate, political party or political cause so long as such participation or contribution occurs during the employee’s personal time and does not involve the use of any city resources.”

City Attorney Rob Golterman said last week that, in his opinion, the current civil service rules’ section on political activity is inconsistent with state and federal laws “regarding one’s constitutional rights to participate in the political process” and warranted the proposed amendment.

But allowing employees to openly participate in city politics appears to conflict with a provision in Article 13 of the charter, which 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.”

Golterman told Miguel that the next sentence in Article 13 — “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.”— makes the charter and, if amended, the civil service rules on political activity consistent.

City employees cannot take part in campaigns for city offices or causes as city employees but have the constitutional right to do so as private citizens, Golterman said.

“You have to read the second sentence of the charter in context with the first,” he said. “(City employees) have the absolute right as private citizens to take part in political campaigns. They have the right to have yard signs in their yards. They have the right to attend rallies. They have the right to wear buttons. They have the right to have bumper stickers. They have the right to contribute money. And that’s protected by the United States Constitution. And that’s why the second sentence in that section exists, because we presume that the folks that adopted the charter and drafted the charter did so so that it would be constitutional and legal, and we have to interpret the charter as best we can so that it is constitutional.

” … I don’t believe the civil service rule revision allows anything the charter prohibits nor does it prohibit anything the charter allows. I think they are consistent, and there is not a conflict … We have an obligation to uphold the charter as best we can. We have an obligation to interpret it so as not to defile it … We have to try and interpret it consistent with the Constitution if we can, and I believe that we can.”

But Miguel responded that allowing city department heads to be politically active and attend political meetings presented a conflict of interest.

Golterman said there are “extreme circumstances where the city’s interests could override an individual’s rights.”

“But in addition, if the activity is so substantial and involves subordinance, for example, that’s going to get very close to the line of coercion, persuasion, using your city office even though you’re not in uniform or even though you’re off the clock. That could to rise to the level of using that office in a manner to unnecessarily coerce people …”

The charter was adopted by Crestwood voters in 1995. It contains a provision that requires a Charter Review Commission to review the document every 10 years and submit amendments to voters. The Board of Aldermen also has the authority to draft amendments to the charter, but those changes also must be submitted to a public vote.

Miguel asked if, based on Golterman’s interpretation, the charter should be amended. Golterman said the board could start the amendment process if it wanted to, but he didn’t believe it was necessary.

St. Louis County’s Civil Service Rules on political activity state, in part, “No person holding a position in the merit system shall use or promise to use directly or indirectly their official authority or influence to coerce the political action of any person or body, or … seek or accept nomination, election, or appointment as an officer of a political club or organization; serve as a member of a committee of any such club or organization; … or distribute literature, badges, labels, or insignia favoring or opposing a candidate for nomination or election, whether federal, state, county or municipal.

“No provision in these rules shall be construed to prohibit or prevent any employee in the merit system from be-coming or continuing to be a member of a political club or organization or from attendance at political meetings, from enjoying entire freedom from all interference in casting their vote, from expressing privately their opinions on all political questions …”

Later in the meeting, former Civil Service Board member Martha Duchild also addressed aldermen with concerns about the amendments.

Before July 22, the last Civil Service Board meeting was Aug. 28, 2008, when Duchild was a member. In the following months, she and members Gretchen Huston and Catherine Barnes were replaced with current members Kevin King, Carol Wagner and Steve Knarr.

Duchild said it appeared that the proposed change to the board’s meeting requirements reflected its current meeting habits.

“There is no justification for changing the rules simply because you are not following them,” Duchild said. “An inactive board becomes invisible to the city’s employees, the very people for whom the Civil Service Board was in part established. Part of Crestwood’s stated philosophy for becoming a charter city was to give more control to the citizens. Reducing the meeting requirements for any citizen board only serves to take control away from the citizens and put it back in the hands of city government.”

Duchild also said she agreed with Miguel the political activity section’s amendment contradicted the charter. She said she interprets the charter to read that a city employee’s right to participate in local politics does not extend beyond voting in elections and signing nominating petitions.

She further questioned why Golterman did not find the civil service rules’ political activity section unconstitutional when the rules as a whole previously were reviewed in 2006.

Finally, Duchild expressed her concern with the “placement and content” of a proposed addition to the civil service rules’ alcohol and controlled-substance testing policy, Chapter 13.

Currently, the policy applies only to “safety-sensitive employees,” or “any employee who operates a commercial motor vehicle for the city and holds and commercial driver’s license …”

The modification adds language to the applicability section to include employees who aren’t safety-sensitive.

“Employees who do not perform safety-sensitive functions shall also refrain from using or being under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs while on duty. Any such employee found using or believed to be under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs while on duty is subject to disciplinary action as defined (in the same chapter), including termination …” according to the recommended new language.

However, the Civil Service Board last year drafted an additional chapter, Chapter 14, on non-safety-sensitive employee substance-abuse policy.

Civil Service Board members reviewed a list of questions Eckrich gave to Duchild about the proposed policy, according to approved minutes from the Aug. 28, 2008, meeting.

At the time, then-Assistant City Administrator Brian Gross recommended discussion “be tabled until the Civil Service Board is able to meet with Mr. Eckrich to discuss his inquiries.”

The Civil Service Board voted to table the discussion, but didn’t meet again in an official capacity until July 22 — with all three board members from Aug. 28 replaced.

Eckrich has said the proposed addition to the policy reflects what the previous Civil Service Board wanted to accomplish by drafting a separate chapter.

However, Duchild said the amendment condenses the non-safety-sensitive employee policy “to such an extent that a great deal of necessary detail has been omitted.”

She offered to provide both the Board of Aldermen and current Civil Service Board with copies of the Chapter 14 draft.

In his motion to table the issue, Miguel requested all of the evening’s discussion on the proposed amendments be documented and communicated to the current Civil Service Board.