ATLANTIC - The Atlantic City Council will consider the second reading of a controversial ordinance that changes who has authority to discipline or fire employees who have been hired under the authority of an independent board and are perceived to be accountable only to that board.
The Council passed the first reading of the ordinance two weeks ago after members of the Parks and Recreation board voiced opposition to the change and complained that they had not been consulted about the change.
“We feel obviously that the system has been working in its current form,” Parks Board member John Krogman said. “We still feel that way. We have great support for our staff and our Director.”
But Krogman added that he and other members of the Park Board were upset with the lack of communication from the city and that they weren’t included in the initial discussions adding that they found out about the changes from an article in the News Telegraph.
Under the new rules the authority to hire, fire and discipline board appointed employees would fall under the authority of the City Administrator. Officials say the change is intended to address a “long-standing perception” that four positions, Fire Chief, Parks and Recreation director, Airport director and Library director — all of which are appointed either by an independent board or commission — have no accountability beyond the authority of those boards.
Officials say that without authority over those positions, — other than controlling the salaries — the city could be open to legal liability if city policies are not followed in a consistent manner. Under the current rules the city is at the mercy of the respective boards to provide discipline or fire employees who violate city policy while the city is obligated to pay any penalty that might be imposed due to lawsuits or other penalties.
But the timing of the proposal has raised some eyebrows, with the city’s Personnel and Finance Committee meeting on Oct. 30 to discuss the issue, only days after the city’s Parks and Recreation Director Bryant Rassmussen angrily confronted the Council on issues regarding erosion along Bull Creek.
Rasmussen has since apologized and city officials said the issue wasn’t about a “power struggle” but an effort to bring all city employees in under the same rules and overseen by someone with experience in human resource issues.
“I feel this is very important, mainly for human resource (HR) issues,” Council person Kathy Somers — who works with HR issues at her job said. “I understand the legal reason why you have to have system in place where all employees are accountable.”
“Some people are seeing this as a power struggle,” Councilman Dana Halder said. “It’s not a power struggle. We’re just trying to do our best to protect the city.”
Because city code is silent on the removal or discipline of two of the positions, the Fire Chief and Airport director, officials say, that authority automatically defaults to the City Administrator.
As for the Library Director, the hiring and firing of that position is governed by state law which requires a vote of two-thirds of the board to remove a director. Because state law supersedes city code, the city is unable to change its code regarding the position.
The city can however change the procedure for hiring, firing and disciplining the Parks and Recreation director. The current codes states that “the (Parks) Board has authority over the properties and personnel devoted to parks and recreation, subject to the limitation of expenditures for salaries and supplies.”
Under the new rules that clause will be removed and language added to the chapter on the duties of the City Administrator that would provide him the power to “Appoint, direct, and, when necessary, discipline, suspend, issue terms of administrative leave or remove all officers and employees of the City except those officers and employees whose appointment, suspension or removal is otherwise provided for by law or explicitly stated in this Code of Ordinance.”
The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. and will be held in the Council Chambers at City Hall.