Danville’s new city commissioners got right to work on a long list of issues Monday night.
Mayor Bernie Hunstad set a lengthy agenda for the meeting that reflected several items he said he wanted to address during his campaign last year. A majority of the meeting was spent on an open door ordinance for city employees that Hunstad put together.
The ordinance as written makes clear that city employees should have open channels to speak with their supervisors about ideas that could improve departmental operations, to point out waste, fraud and abuse, and to air grievances.
Hunstad, who reiterated that the ordinance is an attempt to bring about increased transparency in city government, said the intention of the measure is to improve communication as well as boost moral.
However, Pennington urged caution in approving any language that could be interpreted as a different route to reporting official grievances, which if handled improperly could jeopardize the city’s legal position.
Pennington noted that the city retained Sturgill, Turner, Barker and Maloney, a Lexington law firm, last year to rewrite sections of the personnel policy regarding grievances, which currently leave uncertainty over the amount of time the city has to take action. City Clerk Donna Peek said the firm is expected to return a draft of the new policies by the beginning of February.
The ordinance was ultimately tabled and sent to Pennington and City Manager Paul Stansbury for further review of how it may interact with the grievance policy. After a long debate, the commissioners decided a new draft will be considered at the end of the month.
Pennington expressed confidence that the ordinance could be written in a way that doesn’t contradict with or weaken the formal policy of dealing with grievances.
During the meeting, Hunstad also made clear his intention to address staffing in the police department when it comes time for the commission to tackle the budget.
At Hunstad’s request, Police Chief Jay Newell spoke to the commission about the department’s current staffing situation and the amount of money and time that must be spent hiring a new, untrained candidate versus a trained officer from another department.
Newell said after Monday night the police force will be fully staffed at 34, however, nine of those officers are not on the street, including six currently completing academy training. He said it takes a new officer an average of 10 months to complete the academy and street training.
City financial advisor Craig Butler said it costs the city about $22,000 in pay, benefits and taxes to put each officer through the process, plus another $5,000 in equipment costs.
Newell said the department would like to attract qualified officers, but it is difficult because there is no transfer policy, meaning someone who has five years of experience in another department would start at the new officer salary level in Danville.
In part because of the current pay scale, Newell said the department has lost several officers to surrounding sheriff and police departments over the last several years.
The commission directed Butler, Newell and Stansbury to begin looking for a way to revise the pay scale ahead of budget talks later this year.
In other business, James Atkins, the top vote-getter in November’s election, was unanimously approved as mayor pro tem, meaning he is authorized to fulfill the duties of mayor in his absence.
The commission voted to change the regular meeting time from 6:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of every month.
The commission also canceled the Jan. 10 meeting because Hunstad will be out of town.
Hunstad and Atkins both said they want to make sure that no meeting lasts longer than 90 minutes.