Troutman Council mulling revisions to personnel policy
BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Troutman Town Council took a deep dive into the town’s revised personnel policy earlier this week before final consideration next month. The council took the policy off its regular agenda in August after several questions arose.
Cheryl Brown from the MAPS Group presented a draft of an updated personnel policy and a pay and classification study to council members in July and returned on Tuesday to assist in answering questions and making revisions.
Brown will send a draft of changes to council for review prior to its September 12 meeting.
This “living document” can be amended as needed at any time to accommodate needs or to reflect changes in statutes, noted Brown. The council should do a comprehensive review of personnel policy every three to five years to ensure it is still accurate and up-to-date.
Council member Paul Henkel questioned whether the town needed a part-time human resources officer at this point, but Brown suggested that the town contract help as needed from the UNC School of Government, the League of Municipalities, MAPS, or Town Attorney Gary Thomas.
Finance Director Steve Shealey handles most HR functions at this point.
Brown noted that the decision to hire an HR person should be based on a need. If the town adds more employees and gets to a “tipping point” where HR issues are interfering with Shealy’s finance duties, then hiring a part-time or full-time HR person would make sense, she said.
In the revised policy, Brown included the state-mandated four hours per year of unpaid parental leave to attend their children’s school events, which council members asked to instead be paid hours. However, some council members also questioned the fairness of extending a benefit to only some staff members.
After extensive discussion, council members decided to make the four hours of paid leave also applicable for volunteer work, elder care, and for grandparents to attend their children’s school events. This move would allow all employees a chance to access the benefit.
At Brown’s recommendation, the town also increased the current $10,000 life insurance benefit to an amount equal to the employee’s annual salary, with a cap of $100,000. This increased insurance benefit would have minimal cost to the town.
Council members suggested staff start investigating whether the current insurance company can raise the benefit or if a new insurance provider is needed.
The policy regarding the acceptance gifts or favors was also discussed. The recently adopted ethics policy prohibits acceptance of gifts or favors from anyone involved in business dealings with the town or the granting favors by employees as they discharge of duties.
However, “items of nominal value, valued at less than $25, may be accepted by employees as a gift or honorarium for participation in meetings, receipt of advertising items or souvenirs, or receipt of meals furnished at conferences and banquets.”
Council member Sally Williams questioned situations where police officers’ meals were paid for without their knowledge or consent. Henkel also was concerned that officers or other employees not be penalized for a situation over which they had no say or control.
Council members felt in that situation, the employee could not be held at fault if it was done without their knowledge.
Longino noted that the UNC School of Government recommends that employees should insist on paying for their lunch if someone offers. Brown agreed, saying that the trend is toward “zero gifts in the public sector” since it “eliminates subjectivity in applying policy.”
In his previous career, Paul Bryant said, “We were told if it sounds like fun, don’t do it!”
Council members also extended the training or probationary period for new employees if they are out for an extended period for illness, injury, maternity leave, or other cause.
The change from “Required Minimum” to “Desirable Education and Experience” on the revised job descriptions also garnered comment. Brown explained that this phrasing was now more in use and broadened the applicant pool, noting that a partially qualified applicant, with training, might “come in and flourish if they are the right fit.”
Henkel agreed that some can “learn quickly on the run and get up to standard.”
The council also discussed overtime issues. Longino estimated that 90 percent of the staff took comp time, while others took a combination of comp time and pay.
Finance Director Steve Shealy assured council members that overtime pay was built into each department’s budget.
“It hasn’t been a big issue because there is not a lot of overtime,” said Shealy, who noted use of comp time is recorded on a spreadsheet for record-keeping.
Brown said that the “Fair Labor” section of the personnel policy directs that non-exempt employees sign a statement at their hiring to expect comp time instead of overtime pay for extra hours.
The budget includes $2,500 for possible police overtime and $15,000 for the Public Works Department, split between the Street Maintenance and Utility Funds.
Increase in salary for new degrees and certifications was also discussed. Shealy said money was budgeted for every department to cover this need.
Longino explained that the pay increases were currently based on a loose policy and a chart established by a former Town Manager. Henkel asked Longino to draft a formal policy on these increases for council approval.
Brown also suggested that staff look at the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the police and any other departments to make sure they are in compliance with the new personnel policy.
Council members revised the “no tobacco policy” at Town Hall or police department to allow smoking at a designated area in the back of the building to avoid exposing others to second-hand smoke. The council also expanded the policy to include the prohibition of vaping and other tobacco products outside this designated area.
Williams mentioned that the council might also want to consider adding prohibition of vaping and other tobacco products to town policies for the park, greenway, depot, and other areas, noting that incidence of vaping was increasing at park events and needed to be addressed.