Crestwood Board of Aldermen votes to revise city’s civil-service code

Provision allowing nepotism passes with 5-3 vote

By BURKE WASSON

After more than 10 years without updating its civil-service rules and regulations, the city of Crestwood has a new plan for its employees.

The Board of Aldermen last week approved 10 ordinances resulting in a newly revised civil-service code for city employees. The changes to the civil-service code, which was last revised in 1996, primarily are updates to provisions that had been outdated by state and federal law. These include the additions of such new laws regarding harassment and testing for alcohol and controlled substances.

The new civil-service code also includes some changes made to employees’ personnel manual that are more reflective of new city policy than new federal and state laws.

These include a provision requiring classified employees to gain approval from the city administrator before discussing city matters with the media. The originally proposed civil-service code designated the mayor and city administrator as media spokesmen.

While that proposal has been erased from the civil-service code, civil-service employees still must obtain the city administrator’s permission to speak with the media on city matters.

Another policy change reflected in the revised civil-service code is a ban on dating between department heads, the city administrator and any supervisor and subordinate.

While eight of the 10 ordinances leading to a new civil-service code were unanimously approved April 10 by aldermen, two such ordinances based on changes in city policy received at least one “no” vote.

An ordinance allowing family members of newly elected officials to retain employment with the city was passed by a 5-3 vote with Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland, Ward 2 Alderman Jim Kelleher and Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel opposed.

“Previously, there was language that should an individual be elected to this board and we have an employee that’s related to that person, that employee would be required under the code to no longer be an employee,” City Administrator Frank Myers said. “What this language does is say that if you’re a city employee and one of your relatives gets elected, you do not have to forfeit your job. However, if you become elected to this board, you can’t have relatives get jobs in the city after you’re elected.”

Mayor Roy Robinson originally instructed City Attorney Robert Golterman to draft such an ordinance in 2006.

While that ordinance retains the services of employees who have a family member elected to office, it blocks the hiring of any family members of elected officials after they have been elected.

Pickel also opposed an ordinance outlining the Civil Service Board’s duties. That ordinance passed by a 7-1 vote.

Under the newly approved civil-service code, the Civil Service Board can make “any investigation which it may deem desirable concerning the administration of personnel in the municipal service and report to the Board of Aldermen at least once a year in writing on its findings, conclusions and recommendations.

Pickel last week reiterated his opinion that allowing the Civil Service Board “to make any investigation it may deem desirable” could be detrimental to the city.

“I think we need to be careful about the balance of power within the city,” Pickel said. “And I think that the Civil Service Board, just like any city commission, exists at the discretion of the Board of Aldermen and operates at the direction of the Board of Aldermen. And I’m not sure that’s entirely clearly defined here. Still in (Municipal Code) Section 18-7, paragraph two, we say that they can make any investigation the Civil Service Board deems desirable. To me, that’s a little open ended. And it would be my preference if that was a little more clearly defined.”

Civil Service Board members Catherine Barnes, Martha Duchild and Gretchen Huston responded to Pickel’s concern by specifying in the newly approved ordinance that such investigations would only be “concerning the administration of personnel in the municipal service.”

Aldermen also denied one of the Civil Service Board’s recommendations concerning the city’s gratuity policy for employees. The city’s current policy that employees should report any gift valued more than $100 will remain intact in the new civil-service code. The Civil Service Board had proposed dropping down that reporting value to $50.

But Robinson said that after careful review, he believed that the current policy has not caused any problems.

“Previously, I probably did not believe that, from the outside looking in, we needed to have a policy of $100 for gratuities,” Robinson said. “And that doesn’t mean that everybody’s taking $100 in gratuities. But I think the one that we have now has worked fine. There’s been no problems. If we see that there’s a problem down the road, then we’ll amend it and make more restrictions. But why change something when it’s working just fine for the last few years? So, I would recommend that we keep the gratuity limits at $100. And if we have a problem, we’ll bring it back to the board.”

As for the new ordinance that allows city employees to retain their positions after a family member is elected to office, Bland said he also believes the current policy, which requires such employees to be removed, has existed without any problems. Because of that and his contention that the civil-service code should be modeled after existing laws instead of new city policy, he joined the minority side of the board’s 5-3 vote and voted against it.

“That nepotism thing was something that was added that, in my mind, we really didn’t need to address,” Bland said. “That’s a separate issue. That’s not housekeeping stuff. That’s adding something in that’s not been there before. My argument is when the voters voted (in November 2006) on the Charter amendments, they were very judicious and spoke very loudly that they’re leery of a lot of change. So I see that no different with this. I think you vote what you have to vote in, which is why the gratuities thing was brought up the way it was. That was initially supposed to be an item, too.

“And we chose just to leave it as is. It’s been that way for a number of years, it’s worked, we’ve had absolutely no complaints or problems with it. So the whole idea of we need to change it for the sake of changing it, I’m just not buying into that. So I think we need to take a conservative approach.”

Bland further said that if a city employee’s family member were to be elected as an alderman in the future, that the alderman in question should abstain from any votes related to that family member’s department and pay.

“I hope that in the future if there is a situation where you have an elected official and you have somebody that’s employed by the city that that elected official will recuse him or herself from any votes that might be perceived as a conflict,” Bland said. “And I would even contend that could go as far as the budget, depending on where that person might work in the city.

“So I just see that as no need to implement that policy because the policy we’ve had has worked just fine.”

When the proposed civil-service code changes first were brought to the board in January, minutes of 14 of 16 Civil Service Board meetings in 2006 had been unavailable to the public.

All minutes of those meetings since have been updated.

Besides the previous lack of meeting minutes, aldermen also questioned public awareness and notification of these meetings.

Some previously said in January that they were unaware that the Civil Service Board met as many as 16 times in 2006.

Because of this confusion and the fact that only two meetings had minutes approved by the time aldermen first were asked Jan. 9 to vote on the new civil-service code, the board tabled the changes and completed two work sessions to discuss the proposed code that was adopted last week.