New year, new member, same issues
BOURBON — The Bourbon Town Council convened for the first time in 2011 beginning a new year with a new member, Les McFarland.
McFarland was sworn in Thursday, Dec. 23, at 10 a.m., at the town hall by Bourbon Town Clerk Kimberly Berger, to begin his four-year term Jan. 1.
And though new to the position as council member, councilman Gary Collins nominated him as president as the first item of business. Incumbent councilmember Larry Wattenbarger expressed his disapproval after the motion was seconded by McFarland.
“I kind of felt this was going to happen,” he said. “I think you’re sending a message to the town that you’re going to have to answer for. I thought you guys were in cahoots.”
McFarland said he felt “the people had spoken during the election” and explained that the council president merely “runs the meeting.”
Wattenbarger volleyed that the state would soon be looking into making changes regarding town employees (McFarland is a part-time, fill-in Bourbon police officer) holding office and said, “I don’t think the people of this town are going to tolerate it.”
McFarland said should the legislature make changes in the future, he would be under county jurisdiction (as a Marshall County police officer) and it would not necessarily affect him. After he was asked how it would affect him as a part-time Bourbon officer, he said should that prove to be a conflict to the position he was elected to fill, he would resign from being a part-time Bourbon employee.
He then asked the public if they had comments, and only one, town employee and councilman Wattenbarger’s wife, Dena, spoke against. “I think it’s bull; you’ve (only) been to one meeting.”
Another audience member, P.J. Hanley, said he didn’t care who the president of the council was but added, “I just hope you guys can get along and start doing stuff for the community, rather than your own agendas,” he said.
Collins brought up another issue that had almost caused a court battle between the town and police force and which had council members arguing for months, with employees and amongst themselves.
At the December 2010 meeting, then council president Wattenbarger and outgoing member Tim Perkins had voted to put the police department back on a five-day work week as are other town employees.
The Bourbon Police Department has been working a six days on, three days off schedule since at least 1986, when it was made an ordinance by a previous council.
In 2000, a employee handbook update — which included the police department’s employees, outlining a workweek as five days — was signed (and approved as a resolution) and agreed upon by all town employees, even though the police were still working the six on/three off shifts.
Former chief John West had brought up the conflict of days not being rewarded (police officers got five days per year off for vacations rather than the six they felt they were owed) to Bourbon councils in 2005 and 2008 and nothing was done to change the ordinance. He brought it before the next council in 2010, and after much deliberation and legal consultation, it was decided the town would offer the officers a “payoff” in exchange for the officers “forgiving” the years that had gone unresolved, (2005 through 2009) which was a $5,032.96 cost to the town.
As Collins explained last Tuesday night in regard to the decision made last month, “the other employees felt it was a pay cut for the police officers.” “I did some checking and the way it was voted on last month was not done properly,” he said. “That brought the entire board in violation of the (1986) ordinance. I spoke with an attorney and it could’ve been costly to the town. It’s a good thing it was caught.”
Wattenbarger countered, “You all signed an agreement ... later we were threatened by the police chief to sue the town.” He went on to compare the officers’ giving up of their safety, potentially putting their lives on the line, to the other town employees doing duties such as being down inside dug dirt trenches and etc. being “just as dangerous.”
“What we have is someone on the board with a conflict of interest putting money back into their pocket,” he said. “...You people made the decision (to take on a dangerous job) and that’s what you wanted to do.”
Collins explained that officers work shifts around the clock and on the weekends as regular shifts, not compensated as though they were working overtime (by receiving time-and-a-half), and reminded those present that “no one has gotten a raise in two years.” He addressed officers’ sleeping habits working day and night shifts within the same week and the fact that part time help was hired to cover a fifth person not being hired to the force after a full-time employee, West, had retired.
The question Clerk-treasurer Kim Berger asked Collins — if he and the other officers felt it would better serve them if they were paid by the hour, where officers would “punch in a time clock” so they could be paid like the other employees rather than by salary — went unanswered.
President McFarland asked questions as to how the officers figured their schedules, if the town employees also worked full weekends and how many days straight they worked, as well as whether it had been legal or not to change the ordinance by the decision the month before, inquiring, “If this wasn’t done right, what are the chances of two years from now, the town having to pay out again?” To which, Wattenbarger reminded, “The town only paid out because its employees were threatening to sue.”
McFarland said he felt the officers “working midnights and holidays should be compensated for it” and Berger gave more explanation: “Some of the (non-police) town employees work 12 days straight and they don’t get extra for it and councilman Perkins showed us last meeting that they (the officers) were working fewer days (than the other town employees). McFarland asked to see those figures which, Berger explained Perkins “had just written down” and said she did not have copies of them.
The formula to which Perkins had used (that wasn’t available for review at the time) was formulated the following way: If a year is 365 days and the officers are working six days of nine-day “week,” one would take the 365 and divide it by the number of days worked in a “week” (seven for non-police and nine for police) and then multiply the answer by the number of days actually worked (five per week for non-police and six for police) with the result being a difference of 14 days actually worked each year (260 for non-police and 246 for police).
Berger added that police employees were also getting “longevity pay,” another benefit the other town employees did not, to which Wattenbarger exclaimed, “John (West) talked us into.”
Berger, at a later interview, explained that officers must work with the Bourbon force for three years in order to qualify for “longevity pay.” “The reasoning behind it, from what I understand, was that officers were taking the schooling and the town invested in that, and then they would leave,” she said. “It was done as an incentive to retain officers.” She said that only three officers presently on Bourbon’s force even qualify for “longevity pay,” which is a $100-per-year bonus for every year they have served on the force. Broken down, the numbers stand: Bourbon Officer Ben McIntyre receives $800, Chief Bill Martin receives $1,100 and Assistant Chief Gary Collins receives $2,000 each year. Berger said those amounts were “frozen” to not increase by a 2010 salary ordinance.
At the meeting Council President McFarland asked the heads of the town departments what they thought. Only Mike Shoda, water superintendent replied, “Leave me out of it.”
McFarland let Collins’ motion lie and asked that he be given more time to explore the history and details of the controversy before making any decision and the matter was tabled.