Personnel Policy Revisions Delayed Until Fall

A flurry of unsettling questions raised Monday prompted the City Council to put off until September a vote on proposed revisions in the city's personnel policy.

The questions centered on the proposed policy's treatment of labor relations, which one resident called "arbitrary, dictatorial and capricious," and on its impact on the city's response to an Orange County Grand Jury's allegations of nepotism in the Police Department.

Bruce M. Stark, a resident and an attorney specializing in labor law, said the city's proposed personnel policy was "terrible" and "requires substantial rewriting" before it offers city employees fair treatment and proper representation.

City Manager Robert Nelson said the rules were negotiated with the city's two employee organizations, the Police Officers' Assn. and the Orange County Employees' Assn., along with their attorneys. "If they shared (Stark's) concerns, they would have raised them then," he said.

Councilman Frank Laszlo raised a question that seemed to be on the minds of most of the council members: "How is this related to the grand jury report?" he asked.

The revised policy proposes a relaxation of the city's strict rule forbidding nepotism.

The Police Department was criticized for nepotism by the grand jury report issued last month. Though the report did not name the couple, city officials have acknowledged that the report's allegations of nepotism referred to Police Chief Bill Stearns and his wife, Michele, who was transferred from her job as animal control officer to court liaison soon after her husband became acting chief in 1987.

City personnel rules state that "no husband and wife . . . shall be employed in the same municipal department."

The proposed rules give city officials more flexibility. They bar two relatives from working in the same department only if one would directly supervise the other, or if the city determines that for other reasons the potential for conflict of interest would be greater than for two unrelated employees.

Nelson said the city did not propose a change in its nepotism policy as a response to the grand jury's investigation of the department. Rather, he said, the changes were part of a complete overhaul of the city's personnel policies under way since 1986.

A nepotism policy as strict as the current one may be discriminatory, perhaps even illegal, Nelson said.

"There are court rulings that say any organization, like a city, may not discriminate against people because of their marital status," he said. "That's what I've asked the city attorney to double check, and until I hear from him I'm not taking any action (in the case of Michele Stearns)."

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