Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock)
BYLINE: JOHN WORTHEN ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
PINE BLUFF – Two Pine Bluff aldermen are proposing to change how the city deals with the disciplinary actions and appeals of its uniformed employees.
Although their proposals are different, aldermen Steven Mays and Thelma Walker agree that the current method, adopted after the Civil Service Commission was abolished last year, needs tweaking.
The proposals will be heard for the first time at tonight’s City Council meeting.
Currently, police and fire chiefs, under the supervision of Mayor Carl Redus, are responsible for appointments, promotions and disciplinary actions regarding their employees.
Appeals are handled by a three-member review committee made up of an assistant city attorney, a randomly selected city department head and a randomly selected city employee.
Before, residents who were appointed to the Civil Service Commission made such decisions.
The City Council originally voted to abolish the commission in 2007, but a lawsuit filed by the Southern States Police Benevolent As- sociation prompted a judge to order an injunction on the abolishment until the lawsuit ended.
The suit was finally settled last year, putting an official end to the commission and setting up the current method of handling disciplinary actions and appeals of Pine Bluff’s uniformed workers.
Mays is seeking to reinstate the Civil Service Commission, saying it would be better for the city and its employees.
The new commission would be made up of seven members appointed by the City Council, Mays said, adding that he plans to add an amendment to his proposal that would require members to have previous experience with public safety.
“I don’t feel like our current review panel is a good standard of handling our police and fire personnel’s issues,” Mays said. “I also feel that there can be a certain bias present, since they are being reviewed by people who work for the city.” Mays said having a Civil Service Commission could also cut down on the number of lawsuits filed against the city.
Walker proposes keeping the review committee but only after key changes are made.
She said there is too much pressure on city employees who staff the panel during the appeals process, and that a panel made up of citizens would be a better option.
“I think it would relieve some of the stress that department heads have to go through when they are conducting appeals of people that they may know personally,” Walker said. “It may get difficult when you are making decisions with people you are familiar with through your job.” Walker’s proposal would place 10 members on the review committee, dividing them into two panels of five members each. Each of the city’s eight aldermen would appoint one committee member, and the mayor would appoint two, according to her proposal.
Members would have to be registered voters.
Five committee members would serve two-year terms, while the others would serve three-year terms.
“All members shall draw lots to determine their respective length of term,” Walker’s proposal reads. “Members may be reappointed to one succeeding term.” Also, employees would be able to appeal the committee’s decisions to the City Council under Walker’s proposal.
In addition, the city would retain a private attorney to address legal issues and considerations during the appeals process, her proposal states.
Walker said her proposal isn’t meant as a criticism of the current review committee. It’s “just that some people may be uncomfortable to judge their peers or someone in their department. I feel my changes would result in a win-win situation.”
Copyright 2012 Little Rock Newspapers, Inc.