WATERLOO — A plan restricting interactions between city employees and council members got a rocky reception this week.
Waterloo City Council members Monday discussed a proposed ordinance setting guidelines for accepted or inappropriate communications between elected council members and city staff.
But there is disagreement among council members on how much access they should be granted to visit with department heads and workers who are legally supervised and serve at the direction of the mayor.
“It’s chain of command,” said Councilwoman Margaret Klein, who said council members should route citizen complaints or other concerns through the mayor’s office.
But councilmen Steve Schmitt and Pat Morrissey said it was more efficient and still appropriate for council members to direct those matters to a department head.
“In an organization of 550, for everything to go through that one person is just crazy,” Schmitt said. “I’m not directing anybody to do anything. I’m just asking questions because someone asked me a question. I’m just gathering information to respond to them.”
Morrissey added, “I don’t want to bother the mayor with every phone call I get when I know the department heads and can go ahead and call them and pass that information on to them.”
But Councilman Jerome Amos Jr. said he prefers to help a citizen to contact the department head or mayor themselves with a specific concern, calling him back only if they don’t get satisfaction.
Mayor Quentin Hart said the call for guidelines on council communications is not just political maneuvering.
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“Some of us may have to go to court because there’s certain things that have to be done in a certain way … within the interest of the city,” Hart said. “We’ve had situations where folks thought there was retaliation for being approached outside of work time by council members.
“How do you balance that?” he added. “How do you keep the city from not being liable for that situation?”
Hart also noted requests for information from council members can cut into time a department head needs for assigned duties or could be perceived as an order to take action.
“Questions are decent,” he said. “But the changing of work priorities is what happens sometimes with some of these questions.”
The proposal being discussed this week generally allowed council members to contact employees with questions about agenda items or to gather information. But it discouraged council members from situations where employees may feel like they’re being directed.
Morrissey said he wanted the policy to allow council members to meet with employees about city issues outside of the employees’ working hours.
“That’s their constitutional right,” he said.
But Klein argued that was the type of interaction “that could border on very inappropriate” in the governance of the city.
The work session was one of many meetings expected this year as the council works to revamp the first chapter of its code of ordinances, which covers the city’s form of government, meeting schedules, departmental structure, code of conduct and other administrative items.