Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
BYLINE: Allen Powell II West Bank bureau
Gretna officials are considering tweaking the city’s hiring practices to save money, but the potential changes concern some elected leaders who wonder if the changes could prevent the city from attracting the best candidates.
Councilwoman Raylyn Beevers proposed last month that the city institute a 90-day probationary period for most new hires, and that city contributions to health and retirement benefits take effect upon completion of probation.
Beevers has argued that at times the city hires a new employee and within a few months, it becomes obvious the new hire is unsatisfactory, or the employee quits. Once the city and employee split, the city cannot recoup the payments made to that employee’s retirement and health insurance coverage. In addition, the employee can apply for COBRA coverage through Gretna.
In Beevers’ resolution, she said that given the city’s declining revenues and the increasing insurance and retirement costs, it makes sense for the city to delay providing benefits. She said employees’ performance would be evaluated by their immediate supervisor and that would determine permanent employment.
But the council delayed action on Beever’s proposal because several officials expressed concern that the new rules would make it more difficult for Gretna to hire good employees. Police Chief Arthur Lawson said it would be extremely difficult for his department to convince an experienced officer to leave his current job if it meant foregoing 90 days of health coverage for himself and his family.
“It’s a recruiting problem for us as I see it,” Lawson said. “It’s certainly would make a difference for us.”
Beevers agreed to exempt police officers from the requirement.
Councilman Vincent Cox III said the same would be true for experienced employees in other departments. He questioned the value of saving a small amount of money if it meant missing out on the best candidate.
“If it precludes us from hiring the people we need where does that get us?” Cox asked.
Mayor Ronnie Harris raised the issue of whether the city’s retirement and insurance plans would even allow the city to delay making payments, or how that would impact an employee’s ability to retire later in their careers. Harris said he plans to establish a review committee with Beevers and several other staff members to discuss how the change could be implemented.
“I think these are very valid questions and I don’t think it is something we should take lightly,” Harris said.
But the mayor acknowledged that while very few people leave city employment quickly, when it does happen it is an expense. He said city officials will study those costs and provide an explanation to the council.
“Very few people have come to work and then left in a very short amount of time,” Harris said. “I’m sure there are some costs but it hasn’t been that great. But with money being so tight it pays to look at everything.”
Beevers said if Harris doesn’t want the change, she’ll withdraw her resolution because she only proposed the change at the request of the city administration.
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