Lawyer picks apart city's labor policies

Published May 16, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - The city's labor attorney is recommending an overhaul of Brooksville's personnel policies, calling portions of the existing rules ill conceived, legally insufficient and downright "awful."

Monday, W. Reynolds Allen detailed to the City Council policy by policy what needed tweaking and what needed to be thrown out entirely to protect the city's best interests.

Among the suggestions, Allen asked the council to consider making city employees "at will" employees, which means they would serve at the will of city leaders.

The way the policies are written now, city employees appear to have a property right to their jobs, he said. That means they cannot be dismissed without cause.

While Allen said the decision rested with the council, he said many cities at least hire their department heads as "at will" employees, avoiding costly and complicated disciplinary hearings if a problem arises.

Police and fire employees have a property right to their jobs and cannot be considered "at will" employees, according to state statute, Allen said.

"Some of the worst cases you have are when property rights exist for department heads and above," Allen said.

Brooksville has been grappling with misconduct allegations against both its former human resources director Ron Baker and its former police chief Ed Tincher.

The city has settled with Baker. Tincher sued the city over his settlement but negotiations with him are ongoing.

Allen explained that existing employees can be grandfathered. Those employees who are made to be "at will" could also be given extra benefits such as promised severance or extra vacation time.

He called Brooksville's harassment policy "awful" and suggested instead that the city use the same policy the attorney recently worked up with the city of St. Pete Beach. Many of the suggestions he made for Brooksville were based on the St. Pete Beach personnel policies.

He said the city's drug and alcohol policies were "not any good," and he provided new versions of that policy as well as a new policy on employee leave.

Council members questioned Allen about keeping separate files on employees, files that might contain notes about employee performance or older disciplinary comments. Allen said such separate files can be kept but they are public record and anyone asking for them should be given all the paperwork.

City attorney David La Croix agreed to work with the new city manager, whenever that person is hired, to make the changes suggested by Allen that have been approved by city officials.

He would bring those changes back to the council at a future workshop for their policy input.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or 352 754-6117.