Friday, October 12, 2012

Sun Valley approves new personnel policy

City leaders say staff morale is improving

Express Staff Writer

City of Sun Valley residents concerned by a series of irregular incidents that have plagued their city for nearly a year might be interested to know that the city has updated its personnel policy in an attempt to more clearly define and enforce proper conduct of city employees as expected by the city.

On Oct. 2, the City Council voted 3-0 to adopt the new personnel policy. Councilman Franz Suhadolnik was absent.

Virginia Egger, interim executive assistant to the mayor, said Wednesday that the policy was presented to all city employees during a full staff meeting on Oct. 9.

“The employees will have to return their copy of the policy by Oct. 23, signed that they have read and understood it,” Egger said. “After the meeting, I had many staff members approach me and say, ‘Virginia, that was a great meeting.’ I think we’ve turned the corner with the staff.”

The irregular incidents that—among other reasons—spurred the city to update its personnel policy include alleged financial irregularities, a break-in at the Elkhorn Fire Station resulting in stolen documents and erased files, resignations by staff members, employees’ being placed on both paid and unpaid administrative leave, lawsuits filed against the city and countersuits filed by the city.

In April, the city voluntarily commissioned an in-depth forensic audit of the city’s financial activities during fiscal 2011. On Aug. 24, a report on the audit was received by Mayor Dewayne Briscoe and the City Council in an executive session. The report has not been released to the public, but the new personnel policy sheds some light on the sort of staff activities that the city is hoping to avoid in the future.

“It was necessary to update the personnel policy to reaffirm and to clarify many areas of city policy that in the past may have been subject to interpretation,” Briscoe said. “We wanted to clarify these policies for the benefit of both the city’s employees and the public.”

Egger said the staff has been through a “challenging” time since last fall, yet she finds it “encouraging” how much the staff participated in development of the new policy. She said that under former Mayor Wayne Willich’s administration—which ended Jan. 3—staff meetings and performance reviews were not held regularly and the previous personnel policy was not being implemented in a fair and consistent way.

“The staff was getting a lot of different voices out of the former mayor’s office and [Sharon Hammer] the former administrator’s office,” Egger said. “As a city administrator, you cannot gain the trust of the staff until everyone is treated fairly and equally.”

Egger said that caused a lot of confusion.

“Employees did not know what was expected of them,” she said.

When Briscoe took office, his administration began to enforce the previous policy “more strictly,” she said.

“The staff members liked the clarity,” Egger said. “The city then decided to update the policy based on this positive feedback.”

According to Egger, one significant change to the policy includes the implementation of merit-based pay increases as opposed to across-the-board cost-of-living adjustments.

“This was initiated by the staff, which recommended the change to the council, and the council agreed,” she said.

Briscoe said performance evaluations are now mandatory.

“The staff welcomes these,” he said. “It lets them know where they stand.”

Egger agreed, saying this was not a “hammer” being put down on the staff.

“The staff wants to be evaluated based on merit,” she said.

Another important change is a more strictly defined use policy for city vehicles, credit cards, facilities and amenities, Egger said.

“I think it’s patently unfair to paint this staff as not committed to a high ethical standard and wanting to do the right thing,” Egger said. “But you have to have policies in place and use them consistently so everyone has a clear picture of the expectations.”

Briscoe agreed.

“The staff now knows that this is the policy they must adhere to,” he said. “They know it is their responsibility to comply with it. They know it is not acceptable to deviate even if their department head tells them to.”

Egger said the idea is for every staff member to act as his or her own leader when it comes to adhering to the personnel policy.

“I want the staff members to own this policy,” she said. “I want it to become culture. That’s the major goal.”

Brennan Rego:

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