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Largo aims to keep workers in fold

Employees who receive special and costly training sometimes take jobs elsewhere, some say. So officials may ask them to sign commitment contracts now.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000


LARGO -- City Commissioner Harriet Crozier does not want the city to lose its brain power.

Each year, Largo spends thousands of dollars on special training for some employees. The idea is to give workers valuable knowledge of a subject that will help the city.

But Crozier is concerned that others outside the city, seeing the value of those employees, will try to woo them from Largo with a more lucrative job offer.

Last week, Crozier suggested to commissioners that the city require employees who go through special training to sign a contract agreeing to work for the city for at least two years. City staffers are researching Crozier's proposal.

"We want to hold on to the cream of the crop," Crozier said.

The city now asks for a two-year commitment from people hired from other states in exchange for paying moving expenses. Largo also requires people who go through the police academy to work for the city for two years. If the officer leaves early, he or she must pay back a prorated share of what the city spent to put the person through the academy.

But for staff members with more than two years on the job, Largo can't prevent defections.

The most recent example city officials could recall was of Chuck Boyd. About three years ago, the city spent about $5,000 to send Boyd to an economic-development seminar. A year after the seminar, Boyd got a job as the planning director in Howard County, Md.

Crozier said she brought the issue before commissioners after learning about an employee who recently completed a state-sponsored, two-day program on stormwater erosion and sediment control. The employee, Mike Sepessy, is now a state Department of Environmental Protection stormwater trainer.

"Would he not be valuable to another community?" Crozier asked.

Crozier said she got the idea from her brother, a registered nurse in Tennessee who was sent by his employer, Vanderbilt Hospital, to a class to learn about a disease. Before he went to the class, the hospital made him sign a contract saying he would work at the hospital for two years.

Such arrangements among government bodies are not new. It is a fairly common policy, according to James Blue, an attorney in Tampa who has negotiated similar contracts for several governments.

Blue said most municipal unions recognize the need for such contracts.

"If (the employees) are leaving, (employers) are not getting the return on the taxpayers' money," he said.

St. Petersburg requires its computer programmers, network engineers and application and support specialists to agree to stay with the city for six months if the employee is sent to training. If the person leaves early, he or she must pay back a prorated share to the city.

Pinellas County does not ask its employees to make such an agreement.

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