By Bill Robinson
The two new members of the Richmond City Commission have begun an effort to exert influence on city operations.
After the commission Tuesday went through a brief agenda, which produced one disagreement, first-term Commissioner Jim Newby moved that the city restore employees’ longevity pay. His motion was quickly seconded by new Commissioner Laura King.
Mayor Barnes then asked, “Are you making a motion to get it on the agenda?”
“Yes,” Newby said, “I’m making a motion to get it going.”
“Is a motion necessary?” Commissioner Robert Blythe asked. “We can just put that on the agenda.”
After the mayor agreed, Newby said, “Let’s put it on the agenda.”
Barnes then asked City Clerk Lisa Cassity to put the issue on the agenda for discussion at the commission’s Feb. 5 work session. The commission’s next regular session is Feb. 12.
On Wednesday, City Manager Jimmy Howard said longevity pay, a year-end bonus based on length of service, was ended after 2009 as the city implemented a number of cost-saving measures. When last paid, the bonus had cost the city about $100,000, Howard said, and he was opposed to resuming it.
Before offering his motion, Newby had asked Howard to have a coffee maker returned to the city’s public works department, formerly called the street department.
“When it’s cold outside, and they’re clearing out the snow and ice throughout the night, I think we should get them a coffee machine,” Newby said. “I think it would be kind of ridiculous if I had to make a motion to do that, but I will if I have to.”
Howard said he would get a coffee machine, which is supplied by a vendor, for the department.
The city manger said he believed the vendor had removed the coffee maker after the city stopped purchasing employees’ coffee, and the amount purchased dwindled. Later, when the city resumed buying employees’ coffee, the machine had not been restored, Howard said Wednesday. That was an oversight on his part, the city manager said, but no one in the department had complained to him about it.
When King’s turn came to speak, she said she wanted to make a motion to restore the start time of the city’s vehicle maintenance garage to 7 a.m. from 8 a.m.
King said starting the day earlier would increase productivity and be more convenient for the police department to leave its vehicles at the end of the night shift. Starting earlier also would be more likely to allow work that requires ordering of parts to be finished the same day, she said.
“We probably just need to (discuss this) in a work session instead of making a motion,” the mayor told King.
She said the issue already had been discussed for about two hours in a work session.
Barnes then said operational decisions such as work schedules were left to the city manager under then commission/city manager form of government, and asked Howard if he wanted to address the issue.
In addition to a previous work-session discussion, Howard said he had discussed the issue with King.
“I respect (King’s) opinion,” Howard said, “but it was my decision to change the (maintenance garage’s) hours to 8 to 4:30 from 7 to 3:30,” and he did not intend to change it.
“We’re having no problems,” the city manager said, adding he could not recall the last time a department had complained about vehicle service or maintenance.
“Does anybody else have an opinion on that?” Barnes asked.
Commissioner Donna Baird said, “I respect Mr. Howard’s opinion.”
King then asked Greg King, who heads the city vehicle maintenance, to come to the podium and talk about the issue.
Baird said Greg King had already voiced his opinion to the commission at the Jan. 15 work session.
“I think the public needs to understand,” Laura King said, explainging why she wanted Greg King to speak.
The commission’s regular sessions are carried live on the city’s public-access cable channel and are available a few days later on its website, but work sessions are not. The Jan. 15 work session also was not covered by the news media.
Greg King said he simply was told the work schedule would be changed to the current hours and was allowed no input in the decision.
“I noticed that it’s being asked of other departments what’s needful instead of asking me,” he said,
Maintenance productivity had declined under the new schedule, King added, because fewer vehicle were being brought in.
“If you schedule vehicles in earlier, then you’ve got a day of performance that you can line up for your mechanics,” he said.
In addition to allowing a maintenance job to more likely be finished in a day, King said an earlier start also would allow more work to be done in the cooler time of hot summer days.
Barnes said he could not understand how starting the day an hour later could affect productivity.
Vehicles may be being brought in less often for servicing, King speculated, because of the city’s cost-saving efforts. And, because is service less convenient, the police department may be neglecting periodic service of its vehicle, he said, even if less-frequent servicing has not yet created a safety issue.
The police department’s third shift ends at 7 a.m., and officers do not want to wait until 8 a.m. to bring their vehicles in for service, King said. Since the schedule was changed, more officers are waiting until a vehicle breaks down to have it serviced, he said.
Baird then asked Police Chief Larry Brock for his input.
Police car maintenance is not being neglected, the chief said. Vehicles are inspected routinely, with officers filing monthly reports that include mileage.
“We have no complaints,” Brock said. “We get our vehicles down there (to the maintenance garage) whenever they need it.”
Laura King then said of Greg King, “The point is that he’s the (vehicle maintenance) director and probably knows more about it than anybody else.”
At that point, Newby said to King, “I commend you, sir. I think if all department heads defended their departments like you do, there would be an end to micromanagement.”
Newby’s statement brought some applause from supporters in the audience.
On Wednesday, Howard said he had allowed the vehicle maintenance department to start work at 7 a.m. this past summer, but he would not keep that schedule year around unless ordered by the commission. Two other departments, recycling and building maintenance, were moved to the 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. schedule when vehicle maintenance was, the city manager added.
Laura King also said she wanted an ordinance drafted that would prevent occupancy of dwellings in which police had found methamphetamine labs, until they and been certified as clean.
She asked Brock to explain why the ordinance was needed.
Contrary to what he previously believed, the chief said occupants may return to a dwelling after police post a notice that it had been contaminated, even if recommended cleanup is not performed.
Posting the notice “doesn’t mean (a dwelling) can’t be occupied,” Brock said, “It just means they can’t take the placard off that we’ve put on the door.”
Child Protective Services, however, can prevent children from being taken into a dwelling that has been posted as contaminated, the chief said.
City Attorney Garrett Fowles said he was working on the ordinance.
King also requested a meeting with the city’s garbage collection franchisee to discuss complaints she had received.
“They are not picking up garbage bags,” she said. “And some people are not getting their garbage picked up at all.”
Garbage also escapes from the collection truck, King added.
Because the service went from pickups five days a week to three, it may not be doing as thorough a job, she said.
Barnes said the discussion could be taken up with the collection service when the city negotiates a new contract later this year.
Howard said City Hall gets very few complaints about garbage collection.
King said, “I hear (complaints) everyday,” adding she could provide names and addresses.
Barnes said city ordinance requires garbage to put out the night before scheduled collection, “not the night after,” and suggested that some residents may be confused about their schedule. Also, the ordinance requires trash bags to be put in approved containers, not placed on the curb.
If garbage is “put out on Friday when collection was Thursday,” the mayor said, “it’s going to stay there until the next week.”
The commissioners had disagreed earlier in the meeting about terminating the employment of two firefighters who had been “on extended leave for health reasons” and had been unable to return to work.
All five voted to end Johnny Cox’s employment, but King and Newby voted against terminating Kenneth Prather.
The commission met in executive session on the questions prior to convening the regular session.
All five voted to reappoint Sylvia Powell to the Richmond Housing Authority Board.
Bill Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6690.