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Personnel matters flare up at city committee meetings

By Sue Sitter - | Aug 28, 2021

Questions about human resource matters sparked conversations in three separate City of Rugby committee meetings held Aug. 18 and 20 at city hall.

During the city’s public works meeting Aug. 18, Committee Chair Dave Bednarz added a personnel issue to the agenda.

Committee member Frank LaRocque questioned a decision by Bednarz to terminate an employee at the city water plant. LaRocque asked about the reason for the employee’s dismissal, documentation and whether Bednarz had the authority to terminate public works employees as a council member and chair of the committee.

Bednarz said he did not want to discuss the details of his decision at the committee meeting.

LaRocque argued employee terminations were “open records.”

“If it’s a government employee, their work history is open; what they do on their job and performance is open,” LaRocque said.

Committee members discussed a public works manager they said was “hard to work with” and might have been a factor in the termination.

Bednarz said he was reluctant to discuss details of his decision out of concern for the employees. “They’re both good people,” Bednarz said of the manager and employee. “They both had their problems. “I was chairman and had to do something.”

After the committee discussed possibly hiring a replacement for the position, member Gary Kraft said, “If we fill this position again and have issues again, we’re going to have to do something else.”

Members also discussed contacting City Attorney Bill Hartl for more input on the matter.

Finance and public safety committee member Wayne Trottier attended part of the meeting but left early without any comments.

However, Trottier brought up the topic with the city public safety committee when they discussed drafting a job description for a police sergeant.

Trottier mentioned the employee termination discussed during the public works meeting.

Trottier said, “We have some issues that have flared up. It’s my opinion only, but we lack a structure (for) how we deal with personnel matters.”

Trottier asked about promoting from within for the sergeant position. “How are we going to do that and where’s the authorization to do that, the protocol, the system, the structure? Where is that?”

Rugby Mayor Sue Steinke asked Police Chief John Rose if he had been conducting evaluations of his officers’ performance. City Auditor Jennifer Stewart said Rose had evaluated the officers in 2017.

Trottier suggested creating an organizational chart for the police department and other sections of city government.

“I think (the city personnel committee) can meet with department heads and get some feedback,” Steinke said.

“That’s a start,” Trottier said.

Steinke also mentioned monitoring officers’ performance by using body cameras.

“When I was on the council in the fourth ward here, I pushed for vest cameras, not only for officer safety, but for (city) liability,” Steinke said.

The public works committee held a special meeting Aug. 20 to reinstate the water plant employee.

The meeting came after Steinke and city officials consulted with Hartl and an attorney for the North Dakota League of Cities, who determined Bednarz did not have the authority to fire the water plant employee on his own.

LaRocque made a motion for the committee to reinstate the employee with one week of back pay.

Both the employee and supervisor agreed to go through proper channels to air their grievances and behave professionally.

North Dakota State Representative Jon Nelson attended both the regular and special committee meetings as a representative for All Seasons Water District, who buys its water from the City of Rugby.

“From All Seasons’ standpoint, we’re willing to assist with tuition for the online (water operator) program at Bismarck State,” Nelson said, referring to training the water department employee needed to advance once the plant manager retires.

“We’re interested in consistency,” Nelson said of staffing the water plant. “It seems to me if there’s a personnel matter, the proper channel would be to have a paper trail and corrective actions if there’s a problem from supervisor’s standpoint, so there’s a fair chance of correcting a wrong or perceived wrong.”

Steinke said she and Bednarz had met together with the employee and manager to make changes to problem areas.

After LaRocque admonished the manager and employee to “be professional, work together and be mature about it,” the committee voted to reinstate the employee.

After the Aug. 20 special meeting, Steinke said the city’s personnel committee would meet to discuss policies. “They will meet in the near future to discuss policies and meet with managers and department heads to make sure they’re aware of them,” Steinke said.

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