City staff for Mound have been working alongside the city’s labor attorney and taking guidance from the League of Minnesota Cities to formalize a code of conduct that heretofore has been a collection of general, informal “statements.”
The draft personnel policy set before the city council Aug. 13 was part of the consent agenda and as such would ordinarily have been approved outright alongside a package of other items.
But Councilmember Paula Larson pulled the code of conduct for further review. “I just feel there are areas in here that really need to be addressed,” she said.
Larson objected to what she said she viewed as ambiguity in the current draft and singled out the absence of time requirements for reporting sexual harassment and the lack of any specified form that documentation of harassment cases should take.
“We need to tighten up the language and be very specific here,” Larson said, saying it was the council’s – and city’s – “golden opportunity” to get it right the first time. “I’m really concerned that now is our time.”
The draft comes on the heels of legislation that tightened language around sexual harassment in the personnel policy for state employees. That policy went into effect Aug. 1.
Mound currently has no formal code of conduct for city employees, nor has it ever had one, city manager Eric Hoversten said in response to Larson’s question on the matter.
The policy was drafted based on guidelines set down by the League of Minnesota Cities and offers refinements and improvements to general code of conduct “statements” currently in place, Hoversten explained.
Current language in Mound’s new draft policy stipulates that “In the case of a sexual harassment complaint, a supervisor must report the allegations promptly to the city manager.”
There is no mention of time frame, nor does the policy specify how the report should be made.
The new policy would cover both union and non-union city employees. Catherine Pausche, finance director and city clerk for Mound, said that the policy was drafted in conjunction with the city labor attorney, who had recommended the policy be adopted “immediately.”
But Larson questioned the lack of specificity and how the language may leave it open to interpretation as to how cases of sexual harassment are handled.
“It’s ambiguous as to how they’re supposed to communicate,” Larson said. “How do they document the incident? It doesn’t say it there. We need to tighten up this language.”
Councilmember Sherrie Pugh agreed with Larson and asked also that a provision for the training of city staff around the topic be included in the final version, particularly given councilmembers’ own role, as outlined in the draft, in reporting sexual harassment violations.
The line of reporting includes not just supervisors in city departments, but city manager Hoversten, the mayor and city councilmembers.
“My concern was, as city councilmembers, we have a role in this and we’ve not been trained,” said Pugh. “I am concerned about what is the path of training for the staff to make them aware of these policies, the managers and us as city councilmembers.”
The council sent the policy back for revisions by unanimous vote.