The final regular New Martinsville City Council meeting under the direction of Mayor Lucille Blum and with three outgoing councilmembers ended up being a tumultuous one June 4.
During the department head meeting held prior to the actual council meeting, Electric Department Director Dave White said he was disappointed to see that new and old business were no longer on the agenda.
Recorder Bonnie Shannon said she had received a couple of complaints about how various matters could be brought up under those headings in the meeting without prior notice on the posted agenda. She had spoken with the West Virginia Municipal League and the Secretary of State's office who told her the city cannot make decisions on items that are not specifically listed on the agenda.
"By the sheer process of Robert's Rules of Order, there is a reason that that's in there to completely discuss all business that is at hand," countered White.
"I talked to everyone (on council) and I did not ask for a vote," said Shannon of her removal of those two items from the agenda. White said he believes calling each councilperson to get a decision is an illegal meeting. "That's what goes on here all the time, and it needs to stop. This forum, right here, is where things need to be discussed," said White.
Furthermore, White said he had requested to have the matter of CDO, comp days off, put on the agenda, but it wasn't. "I feel that this is a move that was made on purpose to keep me quiet on this issue," he said. "I'm not going to sit by quietly and let that happen. This is an employee matter that needs to be addressed." Council agreed to let White speak to the issue under the employee relations committee agenda item.
The issue White is speaking of was on the agenda for the May meeting-the approval of a CDO agreement and policy-but it was tabled. The city currently allows employees to build up CDO time, up to 240 hours from 160 hours of overtime at time-and-a-half. It can either be used for time off or cashed out as overtime pay. It is carried over from year to year, but Shannon said that requires a waiver.
The city sought advice from the Secretary of State and West Virginia Municipal League. Now they have asked a federal source, but they are still awaiting a reply.
Based on the discussion that ensued, the tabled agreement would have been based on West Virginia law and prohibited the carryover of CDO from year to year. However, White maintains that since 80 percent of the city's employees are covered by federal law, then they are exempt from the state law. Federal law allows the carryover.
After researching the matter himself, White said he has found several untruths the state told the city and he said they acted in a bullying manner toward the city. The truths are that West Virginia law does not mirror the Federal Labor Standards Act. The FLSA allows either comp time or overtime and does not mention any mandatory use of comp time within any period of time.
Further, White said the FLSA does not mention the need for a written agreement to govern comp time, it simply says "any agreement." White claims the city's employee handbook would probably suffice in the matter. However, he proposed the city create a memorandum of understanding that specifically defines comp time use and compensation as the employee handbook is a bit vague on the matter. That is exactly what council approved in a special meeting held Monday evening.
"We don't need to reinvent the wheel. We don't need to fix a problem that's not broken," said White who claimed that he has only heard one employee complain of the current comp time policy out of the city's over 60 employees.
"I can tell you what most of the employees want. They want to be able to carry over that time," said White. He said they like have that available to them in the event that they get an extended illness or injury.
"We can't be forced into a situation that is going to take something from these people when we have the law on our side anyway," declared White.
"I think when we try to do something nice for our employees, it's our choice," said Shannon. "We feel that we have done it right. This is not abused by our employees."
On a related note, Councilman Joel Potts said council has made several mistakes over the past two years. He suggested to the new mayor Keith Nelsen, who was in the audience, that the city go back to the old way of having a city attorney present at council meetings.