Crestwood board moves to adopt pact with firefighters, modify employee rules

IAFF official urges aldermen not to modify rules changes.

By EVAN YOUNG

The Crestwood Board of Aldermen voted last week to have bills drafted that would adopt a new agreement with the city’s firefighters and modify the rule book for city employees.

Aldermen voted unanimously June 22 to direct the city attorney to provide legislation that would adopt a new memorandum of understanding with firefighters, who are represented by Local 2665 of the Inter-national Association of Fire Fighters.

Local 2665 and Crestwood officials negotiated the new, three-year MOU over the course of roughly one year, from the first presentation of the union’s proposal in May 2009 through its members’ adoption of the MOU June 8.

In addition, aldermen voted 6-2 to direct the city attorney to draft an ordinance to modify three sections of Crestwood’s Civil Service Rules and Regulations. Ward 2 Alderman Jeff Schlink and Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild were opposed.

One of those changes involves deleting the current language in the section on civil service employee political activity and re-placing it with the language from that section of the city’s charter. The new language would state, “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.”

City Attorney Rob Golterman has recommended the MOU and civil service rules incorporate the charter’s “broad” language. From there, the board could provide additional “guidance” about what employees can and can’t do politically, he has said.

While the MOU and civil service rules are separate documents, the MOU at several points references sections in the civil service rules — including the three set to be modified.

During last week’s board meeting, Du-child asked why the civil service modifications took several months to reach aldermen. He noted that one change was approved by the Civil Service Board in December and the other two revisions were approved in April.

City Administrator Jim Eckrich replied that officials “were waiting for the MOU to make sure the fire union didn’t have an issue with any of this.”

Duchild referenced Section 5.04 of the pending MOU, a new section, which states, “Those sections of this memorandum that incorporate provisions of the city’s Civil Service Rules and Regulations are, upon notice to the union, subject to amendment at the city’s discretion in order to conform to any amendments to the Civil Service Rules and Regulations that are adopted by the Board of Aldermen at any time.”

That means, Duchild said later, the union is agreeing to “include or make reference to the civil service rules” which “leaves you open to changes in the future. Obviously you’d have an opinion on it then, but at any time that could change.”

Duchild told Eckrich, “I know it’s hindsight but I for one would appreciate when action is taken by one of the boards or committees that this board hears it first and this board hears it as soon as possible without delay.”

Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel said he believed the current civil service rules language on political activity was “appropriate” and “complementary to what’s in the charter.” He said he was concerned simply mirroring the charter’s language “would open up a couple of windows which could result in conflicts of interest and possible liabilities down the line.”

Duchild asked Golterman why he recommended that section of the civil service rules mirror the charter.

“With this action, and in conjunction with approval of the memorandum of understanding, all three of those documents that govern the political activity of employees will now be identical, and that was our initial goal,” Golterman said. “From there, I think it was always contemplated that either the Board of Aldermen, by directing the Civil Service Board, or the Civil Service Board, or staff or any combination of those, would consider some type of guidance or clarification or additional policy statements that in layman’s terms and by way of example would give all of our employees an idea of what would be appropriate and what would not be appropriate so that they’re not necessarily confused.

“So we got to this point and I think this strategy was exactly what we had outlined to the board several months ago. Where we go from here, I think, is up to the board. That’s the genesis of the suggested change.”

He added, “As we discussed a few months ago in terms of how the charter is interpreted, the charter is very broad. It has very broad prohibitions. In some respects, if read literally, maybe too broad to conform to some constitutional rights. So I don’t think that it weakens the restrictions. I do think that going forward, it would be prudent to provide additional guidance as many other municipalities have and as St. Louis County does. But there was absolutely no intent here to open up opportunities for conflicts or people getting involved in politics where they otherwise shouldn’t be.”

Duchild motioned for the board to table changing the civil service rules section on political activity until it could work out further guidance for employees on their political rights and restrictions.

Ward 1 Alderman Mimi Duncan asked if tabling that modification would impact the MOU.

“Yes it will to the extent that … the memorandum of understanding will also refer back to the civil service rules section,” Golterman said. “So at least for the time being the memorandum of understanding would include the charter language and also include what is in the civil service rules. So long as they’re not in conflict, I think we can get by. This really has never been an issue in the 15 years that I’ve been associated with the city, but we’ll figure out a way to handle it.”

Duchild’s motion later was defeated 5-3. He, Miguel and Schlink were in favor.

After the board approved drafting an ordinance to modify the civil service rules, Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach motioned for Golterman to provide aldermen with examples of the “guidance” for employees to which the attorney previously referenced.

The board voted 4-4, and Mayor Roy Robinson broke the tie to defeat the motion.

Kurt Becker, a district vice president with Local 2665 urged the board not to alter the proposed civil service rules modifications.

“First and foremost, when we include political activity in our memorandums — which is very common — what we seek to do is simply assure that our employees, when they are off-duty, out of uniform and on their own free time, have the opportunity to express their political opinions in a manner that they see fit,” he said. “We feel that it is entirely appropriate for them to do that. We also feel that it’s entirely inappropriate for them while they are on-duty, in uniform or in any way, shape or form representing themselves as an employee, to come out and participate in local political activities.

“There’s a lot of trust involved with the dialogue that takes place at those negotiation tables. We don’t give our members the right to have line-item veto power over the agreement that we’ve reached with the folks sitting on the other side of the table. And I would encourage you as a board to consider the handcuffs that you are going to be putting on your administrative teams when you ask them to go and negotiate these contracts if you are going to then insist on exercising that line-item veto on this document.

“I would encourage you to either vote in this contract or vote it out,” Becker said. “And if you want to start all over from scratch we’re happy to do that. But we’re not going to go back to our members and say: Here’s a 14-page document, and if a handful of them don’t like one particular line on that, we’re not going to go back to the city attorney and the fire chief and say: Well everything’s good except this. That’s just not how these negotiations work …”

Duchild said he appreciated Becker’s comments but noted the board already discussed the MOU.

“My understanding is that there is an attempt to tie the two documents together, that there’s an effort to link those two items and as articulated, one is going to predicate the other,” Becker said. “So if we can’t agree on the political activity verbiage that’s set forth in the civil service rules, then that’s going to put in limbo this memorandum.”

“Well that’s a totally separate topic,” Duchild said. He then addressed Robinson, who earlier had commented on the charter.

“… We’re not talking about the charter, we’re talking about the civil service rules,” Duchild said.

Robinson said, “I don’t care about the civil service rules.”

“That’s what we’re talking about. That’s the topic,” Duchild said.

“Well I don’t care about those,” the mayor said. “You’re talking about … that the charter’s too broad and we have to somehow come to an agreement on whether or not this says everything it should say. Well to me the charter says exactly what it says and what we have to worry about is whether anything we do to change the … intent of the charter, that it doesn’t violate somebody’s First Amendment rights.”

Duchild said, “And Mr. Golterman, do the civil service rules currently violate somebody’s First Amendment rights?”

Golterman replied, “I think it depends on how it is applied.”