Police officer promotion on hold; City job classification never officially approved

Published 8:49 am Monday, February 15, 2016

Star Photo/Rebekah Price  Elizabethton Assistant Attorney Charleton DeVault recommends voting to rescind previous motions from the January meeting to the Personnel Advisory Board on the basis that the city has no Council-approved ordinance outlining job or pay classification for the Police Department.

Star Photo/Rebekah Price
Elizabethton Assistant Attorney Charleton DeVault recommends voting to rescind previous motions from the January meeting to the Personnel Advisory Board on the basis that the city has no Council-approved ordinance outlining job or pay classification for the Police Department.

Due to a discrepancy between an Elizabethton Police Department (EPD) job description and the city’s classification of the position, Officer Matt Taylor was granted a pay raise and promotion to Corporal, which is now in question, along with the city’s entire pay and job classification for the EPD.
Taylor applied for the position seeing that he met the qualifications outlined in the EPD job description which requires “a one year certificate from college or technical school; or a minimum of six years related experience and/or training; or equivalent combination of education and experience.”
This conflicts with the city job classification, which requires six years of experience and accomplishments.
After Chief Greg Workman approved the promotion and pay raise, including retro pay to April 2015, which was Taylor’s five-year mark, City Manager Jerome Kitchens also approved, seeing that requirements per the EPD description were met.
Chief Workman was told to file a Payroll Adjustment Form and forward it to Human Resources.
“It was at this point a critical mistake was made on my part that has led to this grievance,” wrote Kitchens in a memorandum to Taylor. The form came to Kitchens without a signature from HR.
“My mistake was that I thought the change in status had been approved but since the payroll department was in the middle of multiple check runs a verbal ok was to be followed by a subsequent signature,” wrote Kitchens.
Staff in the HR Department noticed the discrepancy regarding the six-year requirement, and Kitchens rescinded his original approval.
“This has been a unique issue that has not been raised before,” wrote City Manager Jerome Kitchens in the memorandum. “I am truly sorry that I have disappointed Officer Taylor because from all accounts he is an excellent officer and has many accomplishments. In addition although this has created emotional turmoil to him he has acted professionally and politely at all times.”
Taylor has been with the department for five years, has previous training as an EMT and now serves as the medic on the SWAT team, which Kitchens called a “credible combination.”
Kitchens met with Taylor and Workman on the day Taylor found out there was an issue, November 19. Taylor was told he would have a second meeting but in a memorandum to Sergeant Curtis Bullock, wrote he had not had that meeting and was nearing his 20-day grievance deadline.
He filed a formal grievance on December 3, which went before the Personnel Advisory Board on January 5. The board unanimously approved motions advising that Taylor receive rank of Corporal along with retro pay. They also unanimously approved a motion that Kitchens did not follow policies and procedures regarding Taylor’s appeal. A third motion was unanimously approved advising that the EPD job descriptions and related documents be brought into uniformity as soon as possible.
The board called upon Assistant City Attorney Charleton DeVault who, after an executive session with the Personnel Advisory Board on Feb. 12, advised the board rescind its three previous motions from January because the policies of the city job classification and pay scale had never been formally approved as ordinances before the City Council, and therefore held no validity.
“It’s my opinion that we have an endemic history of failure to comply properly and because of that, the net result with regard to what our situation is at the present time and with the Matt Taylor complaint and grievance and the January 5 meeting of the advisory board is that the board did not have authority and jurisdiction to hear and decide anything about his complaint about not being promoted to Corporal because in the official merit system documents, there is no rank of Corporal, and there is no job description of Corporal upon which to base any decision with regard to the process being followed or not followed,” said DeVault. He then recommended the board rescind all of its motions and actions with regard to Taylor’s grievance.
While the City does have job and pay classifications for this position, DeVault said they were never properly enacted by City Council.
In fact, DeVault said it appears the last time the city has complied with these requirements was with a comprehensive pay and employee classification plan established in 1985, but unapproved revisions have been made, and the position of Corporal was not listed.
“It’s a significant problem for the city because it’s been operating in an ad hoc fashion —the best I can tell — since 1985 forward,” said DeVault. “The state law and city charter requires that comprehensive classification plans including job descriptions and evaluation forms be presented by the City Manager to the advisory board and then to the City Council with the advisory board’s recommendation one way or the other.”
The board decided to hold a special called meeting on February 24 at noon in City Hall to vote on whether they would rescind the previous motions of January. Additionally, because the recorder used in the January meeting was not functioning, the board must also approve the minutes of the meeting held in January.
DeVault said this will not affect promotions in the past which are operating de facto, but said the Personnel Advisory Board does not have the authority to make a decision either way regarding Taylor’s grievance because it has no legally sanctioned documents to reference.
“We’ve got to get this fixed right now,” said DeVault.

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