Policy handbook sparks heated discussion

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Information pertaining to an employee handbook, along with firefighter vacation time, led to confusion and heated discussion by the Shepherdsville city council.

And the arguments began three minutes into the first meeting of the election year.

Following opening remarks, mayor Scott Ellis mentioned concerns of a rumor regarding a new city employee handbook that he wanted to address.

“There is not a new handbook that’s been handed to employees,” he said.

The council approved revising a city employee handbook two years ago. Ellis said the new version was set for publication in a few months.

However, after two years of preparation and $12,000 spent, Ellis said the handbook still contained inaccuracies. He said the city recently hired a consultant from HR Today, LLC, in Louisville to review the proposed book.

According to Ellis, the big issue was the wording in regards to firefighters’ accumulated vacation time. He said wording needed to be changed from 40 hours to five days.

Ellis said 39 recommendations were presented by HR Today for potential change. He said city department heads received changes prior to the meeting to approve the alterations before the list was presented to the council.

Council member Faith Portman said the handbook rumor was not a rumor, it was her asking about the handbook in reference to a citizen who told her a new handbook was released and wanted to know about it.

“I told them I didn’t know and they had a problem with that,” Portman said. “They said, ‘We don’t understand why you don’t know. Every time I ask you something, you don’t know what’s going on in this city’.”

Portman said she sent an email to city administrators inquiring about the handbook four days prior to the meeting, with no repsonses.

Ellis reiterated that there was not a new handbook. He said a copy of corrections was sent to department heads and nothing was sent to city employees.

“It was a bogus lie from somebody,” he said.

Portman said she was told a new handbook was given to some employees that had “just been drafted.”

“It’s not the one from July, it was just given out (that day),” she said. (The council voted to approve the previous handbook draft in July 2013).

Council member Bernard “Bernie” Brown was concerned that the situation appeared secretive by the city.

“That’s the way it appears,” he said.

The mayor responded that the city was not being secretive and that the email was city business.

“As soon as we get the info we’re gonna hand it to you with the needed amendments,” Ellis said.

Brown asked if anyone on the council was aware of the suggested changes. Portman responded that no one replied to her email so she assumed they didn’t.

“This council is being kept in the dark, too much,” said Brown. “I think we need more transparency.”

Ellis countered that the email was “day-to-day operations of the city” that council members would not normally be aware of.

“There are things you’re not gonna find out about unless it’s needed to know,” he said. “If you need to be involved, you’ll find out.”

“That’s something the council needs to know about,” Portman retaliated.

“You can’t know about something that doesn’t exist,” said council member Gloria Taft.

“It doesn’t exist?” retorted Portman. “They’re talking to an HR firm and it doesn’t exist?”

“The book doesn’t exist,” Taft said.

Portman then inquired about the firm that was used to suggest amendments.

“We’ve already spent $12,000 and you all wanna spend more,” she said.

“We spent two years and thousands of dollars and then someone sees how bad (the handbook) is,” said council member Jose Cubero. “We’re not professionals at that. Obviously the first firm did a pretty bad job.”

Brown said “this council” and the department heads were all to blame for the incorrect version.

Cubero turned his concerns to someone claiming to have received a new handbook, advising Portman not make accusations.

“You obviously need to talk to the individual you’ve accused of doing something with this,” he said.

“I didn’t accuse anybody of anything,” Portman responded. “Are you calling the taxpayer a liar?”

“I don’t know who it is, so I can’t say,” Cubero said.

“Are you calling me a liar,” Portman interrupted. “That I just brought this out somewhere? How would I even know about this, that they even had this? Obviously I’m the only Democrat in this (council) and no one tells me anything.”

Council member Clinton Kline requested a copy of the proposed changes. Ellis said the changes were being brought to the council.

Portman asked if HR Today had already been hired by the city. Ellis said they were paid at a rate of $50 per hour to review the original handbook and suggest changes.

Ellis added that another HR firm cost $150 per hour for the same work. Kline asked if the payment was covered in the city’s budget. Ellis said it was.

City clerk Tammy Richmond said the previous firm hired by the city to develop the handbook left inaccuracies in its revised version.

Richmond had missed work time due to a recent surgery. She said as soon as it was evident there were inaccuracies, the city found someone to look at it again and make suggestions.

“There was no new policy,” she said. “Just suggestions. Not a final draft, just the changes.”

Richmond said she sent the email out to department heads with the suggested changes to make certain that those suggestions seemed correct for each department.

Shepherdsville Fire chief Layne Troutman informed the council that the original handbook was written for traditional 40-hour employees in reference to accumulated vacation time.

However, due to a work shift of 48 consecutive hours on duty and 24 off, Troutman said firefighters were basically 56-hour employees.

“(The handbook) was set up as one day off per month,” he said. “For firefighters it’s three months for one day off.”

Troutman said the department was aware of the issue before the city hired HR Today. He said the department developed its own policy procedure based on city policy, the civil service commission and based on other area fire departments.

Cubero suggested that the council move to correct the situation immediately to make sure firefighters were protected. He said the other suggested changes could wait until the next council meeting.

Kline made a motion to fix firefighters’ vacation time based on their work scheduling. The council voted 3-0 in favor of the change, with Portman and Brown abstaining (Council member Dana Bischoff-James was absent).

“I don’t want to make a rash decision,” Portman said.

“It’s news to me," said Brown. “So many problems and the council was not informed."