A lengthy, sometimes contentious meeting of the Meridian City Council Tuesday night was marked with numerous questions between the mayor and council members.
From questioning several purchases listed on the monthly claims docket to moving ahead to change hiring policies, council members made their dissatisfaction known to Mayor Percy Bland.
Ward One Councilman George Thomas, council president, brought up the issue of changing some hiring rules to make sure that civil service procedures are followed.
"I don't think anybody up here has a problem with temporary appointments," Thomas said to Bland. "If there is a civil service position, you may temporarily appoint them. That is totally your prerogative."
However, if a position is open, why isn't the city advertising that job so that other city employees can apply for it if they want to, Thomas asked.
"If a position is open, you have a right to put a temporary person for 90 days and ask for a 90 day extension," Thomas said.
Ward Two Councilman Dustin Markham agreed, saying it is bad for employee morale when workers don't have an opportunity to test for and apply for a job opening in the city.
"What are you telling the employees when you place one of these temporary employees and you don't give them the opportunity to apply for the job?" Markham asked.
Markham said many employees want to move up; advance in the city and are willing to test for other jobs, as is required in Civil Service. By hiring an employee as a temporary, that person is not put through testing or a background check, Markham said.
Bland said his administration is awaiting word from the city's Civil Service Commission before deciding the next step. That commission recently tabled a request by the City Council to look into the mayor's hiring of temporary employees.
"I am asking you all to work with me," Bland said. "There's a thing called good faith. In good faith to you all, I say these are positions key to this administration."
Bland said questions about temporary employees have not been asked of previous administrations.
Ward Four Councilwoman Kim Houston said there is a new council now, referring to the fact that three of the five council members were just elected to their first term, as was Bland.
Bland asked for more time before the council voted on the issue.
The change in the way temporary employees are hired and compensated, passed on a 3-2 vote with Thomas and Ward Three Councilwoman Barbara Henson both voting against. Both later said that they are not opposed to the change; they support it, but they were willing to give the mayor a couple of weeks, as he had requested, before voting on the matter. Markham, Houston and Ward Five Councilman Randy Hammon voted in favor of the motion.
The policy change means that new and existing jobs for department heads and the Chief Administrative Officer must be brought to the City Council for confirmation within 90 days of the date of the appointment. The council could grant an extension if it chose to, but if the mayor does not bring the confirmation to the council, and is not granted an extension, the newly appointed temporary department head or CAO could have their salary suspended by the council.
Those high level jobs do not fall under civil service protection, but for jobs that are under civil service, the council changed the rules so that even temporary hires must go through civil service hiring procedures after 90 days.
The new temporary employee will have to test and interview for the job and the job will have to be advertised within 90 days of the date the temporary employee's hiring. If that doesn't happen, the council could suspend the employee's pay.
Bland said because of past practices in the city, there are numerous employees, who have been working as temporaries for years, who would be affected. Some are working full time without benefits, he said. All of his hires that should go through civil service, will do so, Bland said.
"We need to look at this," Markham said.
"The right way is to put those people through civil service," Houston said. "Just because it was done that way in the past doesn't make it right."
The council had numerous questions about purchases they were asked to approve on the monthly claims docket.
Thomas asked about $73 spent on 300 tattoos, which CAO Curt Goldacker said were water-based temporary tattoos for children at a recent safety event. Thomas said there were better ways to spend money than for tattoos. Police Chief James Lee answered a question about $750 to buy a 50 inch television with Wi-Fi and BlueRay. It will be used in the police department's briefing room, Lee said.
Bland defended a $3,500 bill for videos produced for the police department's "See Something Say Something" campaign, saying it was necessary to get across the city's message to fight crime.
Markham and Houston questioned the bill from City Attorney Michael Goggans, who said he would look at the invoice again and see if it should be adjusted. The council voted to remove it from the claims docket but they approved the rest of the purchases.
Many of the purchases that prompted questions came from the executive budget of Bland, budget who said it was not necessary for him to consult with the council about every purchase.
"They approved a budget and I'm working within my budget," Bland said.
The council also unanimously approved a request by Bland to spend $15,000 for a health zone study. Bland has been working to get Meridian designated as a health zone, which could bring more healthcare businesses here.
Also the council went ahead with a plan to reinstate the citizens comment portion of meetings.