Extended leave reduction fails in tie

Parkersburg City Council debates six-month cap

Parkersburg City Councilman Eric Barber, left, speaks during a debate over a proposed policy limiting the extended medical leave available to municipal employees with enough accrued time to six months during Tuesday’s council meeting, as Council Vice President Zach Stanley, who presided over the meeting, listens. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — An ordinance limiting the amount of extended medical leave available to municipal employees to six months failed in a tie vote at Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council meeting.

City employees receive 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act. Under city policy, their employment can continue for as long as 40 weeks beyond that if they have the accrued sick, vacation, holiday or compensatory leave to cover it.

The ordinance on first reading would have reduced that number to 14 weeks. Mayor Tom Joyce said the change is “not a huge cost-savings by any measure,” but is aimed at making sure the city can provide services.

Public Works Director Everett Shears “had a small department that was down three spots for seven months,” Joyce said.

Other employees have recently been off for periods of six months, nine months and nearly a year, he said.

Parkersburg City Councilman John Reed speaks during a debate over a proposed policy limiting the extended medical leave available to municipal employees with enough accrued time to six months during Tuesday’s council meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“The issue is not about the money or the employee or anything like that,” Joyce said after the meeting. Prolonged absence “has a detrimental effect on our ability to do our job.”

Personnel Director Sondra Wallace said the city has 63 employees with at least 1,040 hours, equal to six months, of accrued leave. Of those, several, perhaps as many as 30, have the equivalent of a full year, she said.

Councilman Eric Barber said those are the kind of dedicated employees the city should keep.

“I’d just ask if you agree that anyone who’s accrued that (level) of sick time has been a dedicated servant of the city,” he said.

“Absolutely,” Wallace said.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce, left, watches as Brantly Poling holds the microphone for his sister Brylee during the message from the executive portion of Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Joyce introduced the children before presenting Brantly with a framed copy of The Review, a West Virginia Parks and Recreation Association publication for which the boy appeared on the cover. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Barber said he would not make or second a motion but would support a compromise amendment extending the total amount of leave time to nine months. No one made such a motion.

“This is the compromise,” said Councilman John Reed, adding he personally supported reducing the limit to the required minimum of 12 weeks.

Reed said the length of extended leave the city offers “doesn’t happen anywhere but government” and he was looking at the issue from the perspective of a taxpayer.

“You’re providing these employees some type of a long-term benefit that the common man just doesn’t get,” Reed said.

Councilman Jeff Fox said six months may not be enough time to recover from an injury, relating his own experience of being unable to return to work for nine months after injuring his knee.

Volunteers and Parkersburg firefighters who assisted with a bingo fundraiser to pay for particulate hoods for firefighters pose with a check for the $7,629.69 raised during a presentation at Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“These folks aren’t off on vacation,” he said. “I think the idea that we give workers too much health care or pension is ridiculous.”

Fox asked if the city could establish a fund to help offset the cost of temporary workers when an employee is out for an extended period. Joyce said it would vary by position, but he did not believe it would be easy or practical to fill certain specialized, skilled labor jobs on a temporary basis.

The vote ended in a 4-4 tie, with Reed, Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl and Councilmen Dave McCrady and Zach Stanley voting in favor of it. Council President Mike Reynolds was absent.

A resolution authorizing the city to go forward with a request for proposals to purchase the Memorial Bridge and the first readings of ordinances recognizing the Avery Street Historic District in municipal code and raising the minimum height of tree limbs hanging over city rights of way from eight to 13 feet passed 8-0.

Earlier in the meeting, Joyce presented Brantly Poling with a framed copy of The Review, a publication of the West Virginia Parks and Recreation Association which featured the young area resident on the cover for an article about the city’s splash pad that opened earlier this year.

Members of the Ladyburgs Plus One volunteer organization and the International Association of Firefighters Local 91 gave Fire Chief Jason Matthews a check for $7,629.26 raised from a recent bingo event. The money will go to purchase particulate hoods for city firefighters.