CEDAR FALLS — Proposed revisions to the city’s personnel policies raised concerns this week that some changes would make elected officials subject to the same requirements as staff.
A 45-minute discussion by the City Council on Monday revolved around a portion of the policies on conflicts of interest that expanded its scope from employees to include “elected and appointed officials.”
It said they are prohibited from “engaging in any activity, practice, or act that unlawfully conflicts with, or appears to conflict with, the interests of the City.” Later points in the policy referred to “employees and city officials,” stating in one instance that they are not to engage in “any conduct that is disloyal, disruptive, or damaging to the City.”
Council member Simon Harding suggested that could allow the city to improperly exert political control over elected officials.
“There were multiple things that said there would be disciplinary action,” he noted. “I could see appointed officials, but including elected officials seemed like some sort of conflict of interest in and of itself.”
City attorney Kevin Rogers said that wasn’t the intent of the policy revisions. “No employee of the city would have any authority to discipline council on these policies,” he said.
Council member Dave Sires still took issue with some of the implied limits in the policy’s language.
“I think it kind of tramples on our First Amendment rights,” he said. As elected officials who are not employees, “we should be stricken from all of this. We are representatives of the people.”
He moved to strike “elected officials” from the conflict of interest policy, which was seconded by council member Daryl Kruse. Harding then moved to further amend the policy to change references to “city officials” later in the document to “appointed officials,” also seconded by Kruse.
Rogers noted that previously the policy “was a little ambiguous as regards to folks appointed to boards and commissions. (We) wanted to address that to make it explicit on the conflict of interest ideas.”
Elected council members were included because they had already signed the conflict of interest form for many years, said Rogers.
“This sort of codifies that.” Other items in the policy that include the council are incorporating state laws which also apply to elected officials.
He explained, “This is the city saying ... it’s important enough to state right here in our personnel policy that we’re going to abide by these state mandates.”
After further discussion, Harding agreed to remove his amendment. Sires’ original amendment was defeated 5-2, with he and Kruse voting for it.
Council member Susan deBuhr then proposed an amendment to remove “city officials” from the item on engaging in conduct that is “disloyal, disruptive, or damaging to the City,” which was approved unanimously.
The overall policy revisions were approved 6-1 with Sires dissenting.
In a separate item, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance that will allow the city to hire a human resources position. It includes a number of amendments to the city’s code on administration that allow for the creation of a human resources division within the department of finance and business operations.
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