At a recent meeting, Milford City Council discussed possible changes to the administration of the police department. Currently, the police department uses the city Human Resources and Internet Technology offices to handle police issues. City Manager Mark Whitfield questioned whether it would be beneficial for the police to have a dedicated IT and HR department.
“We settled a number of lawsuits over the last six years and they primarily came about because of HR issues within the police department,” Whitfield said. “We have been utilizing our professional in HR to make sure we follow employment laws. As a public works director, I did not know the employment laws. I really relied heavily on the HR person to guide me through the disciplinary actions and what I could do and what I couldn’t do and how to hire, what were the proper questions to ask when you are in an interview. All that came through the HR department.”
Whitfield provided council with information from the town of Milton who had a similar set up as Milford with a Chief of Police that reported to the mayor and council, but things like finance, IT and HR reported to the city administration. The entire personnel process is codified in Milton but is not part of the Milford city code. Since the city is in the process of hiring a new police chief and updating parts of the code, Whitfield felt it was the perfect time to make changes.
“From a practical perspective, we do have duplication of services,” Councilman Jason James said. “They do cross each other at the same time. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that the police chief and Mark should report to the mayor and council. Mark, I know you are not interested in having the chief of police report to you or anyone else, but the chief, in my vision, reports to council. Now, it gets hairy when you’re talking about HR and things of that nature, because when those things happen, council needs to have visibility and they may not be able to adequately address issues that may exist. I don’t want to get into a lot of detail about things, but in my mind, the police is totally specialized with the type of personnel being hired and the type of issues that come up around peacekeepers.”
Mayor Archie Campbell felt that council should not get involved in routine personnel issues as that was what department heads were hired to do. He did not feel council should interfere with the regular duties of the city engineer, the public works director and others. Councilman James stated that he was not talking about department heads who already reported to the city manager, but the police department who already reported to council.
“What I am saying from an operational standpoint, I personally don’t think council should be involved,” Mayor Campbell said. “I get involved. When Kenny was chief and, at the end, when Keith was around, we were close and always talked about things. I think those are the things that should be handled separately from council. Because now you’re involved with a secretary, somebody at public works is involved with somebody at Milford Ponds, with James Puddicombe and now we are losing the fact of doing things for the city. Council to me is to look at the city as a whole and make decisions to make the city grow and make the city improve, not talk about how secretary so and so had a problem.”
Whitfield stated that council’s role had always included making policies. That it was not his intent to require council to manage every personnel issue. He reminded council that the police chief was responsible for the operations of the police department while the city manager is responsible for everything else in the city except for the city clerk who also reported to council.
“That doesn’t mean that council gets involved in operations,” Whitfield said. “It is the crossover services I am talking about. What is it we can do to ensure proper employment laws, IT services, vehicle maintenance, you name it, that it happens in a seamless manner? Again, we can leave it as it is and wait but I wanted to see if there was any interest in codifying it and what those alignments might be.”
Councilman Todd Culotta felt that the current processes were good and that he agreed that the chief should report to the mayor and council. He felt the chief had a direct line to council if there was a grievance or concern. Councilman James commented that his only concern was whether the city had too much redundancy as he felt that was spending taxpayer money unwisely.
“The only thing that HR does is guide you through the process and make sure all the boxes are checked,” Whitfield said. “I’ve never gotten the recommendation of ‘that’s the person you need to hire.’ They don’t do that with any of the department heads. It is always up to the department head to make that decision. Typically, I don’t even get involved because I believe it is the department head’s responsibility to hire a qualified person. I guess the chief would be the same. He o she is going to select the person they feel is qualified. The only thing the HR department does is make sure you follow pertinent laws with regard to the hiring process. Even then, we have had a lawsuit over the forms that we fill out and have had to change our application form. So, this is just making sure the process is done in a legal manner and that there’s a process followed. This isn’t about HR taking ownership of who gets hired for the police.”
Councilman Andy Fulton supported Whitfield’s comment, stating that HR may have 30 applicants for a position and they were responsible for the testing, background checks and that type of thing. Councilman Culotta asked what happened when there was an employee who had an issue or if someone disagreed with an issue in the police department, something that had occurred recently although he could not go into detail as personnel matters are handled privately. He wondered if having an HR person who solely dealt with police matters would be beneficial.
“There is enough of a workload to address that,” Whitfield said. “HR just makes sure that you are handling disciplinary actions properly and guide all the departments to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do. It really comes down to the question ‘am I right’ when making a personnel decision.”
Councilman Fulton believed that the HR department could speed up hiring on the police force as police officers had different requirements than other departments. In addition, some violations like a DUI or domestic violence by a police officer could lead to termination while it may not for another employee.
“Let’s just say we stay the way we are,” Councilman James said. “There is a difference of o pinion or difference of a perceived outcome between peers. How does that get remedied? I think from that perspective, our counselor should be somewhat involved in at least hearing what that gap is and being fully aware of what the suit was so he can address what is happening in the police department when council does not have the visibility.”
City Solicitor David Rutt told council that he believed Whitfield was simply talking about processes. He pointed out that the police would continue to do their own hiring. He stated that there was previous litigation where the processes went wrong and HR was there to tell the city the correct way to do things to avoid additional litigation. Mayor Campbell stated that when he worked in the corporate world, he depended on his HR people to guide him when he managed over 300 people. Whitfield stated that they would discuss this further at a future workshop in December as well as the retreat in October.
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