Survey says OV grievance review needs tweaked - Tucson Local Media: Import

Survey says OV grievance review needs tweaked

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Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 12:00 am

Jan. 5, 2005 - While much discussion has taken place during the past year regarding Oro Valley's system for handling employee complaints, many of the town's workers want the system to go unchanged.

And those who would like to see it changed are not looking for a complete overhaul, but more of a fine tuning of the existing system, according to a survey of employees conducted by the town's human resources department in November.

The council is looking at a possible change to the grievance review board because of what some members have said is "perception" that the board is influenced to make its decisions because of its majority employee composition.

Councilmember Terry Parish has said that, even if no bias really exists, it is important that the council do something to address this perception.

The council met in a joint study session with members of the grievance review board Oct. 25 to hear their opinions concerning the current process, how it works and how they think it could be improved. The makeup of the board has been under discussion by the council since a July study session, held shortly after the new council members were sworn into office.

At the October meeting, Councilmember Barry Gillaspie suggested the town poll employees to get additional opinions about the grievance process. Mayor Paul Loomis said he supported the idea, but only if the results would be used as input and would not be binding in any way.

A mixed group of elected employees and appointed citizens, called the grievance review board, currently hears employee grievance for the town and makes decisions about the facts of each case and any resulting punishment.

A total of five grievances have been referred since the board's inception, with one of those determined to be not grievable. In the four that were heard in their entirety, the board upheld the decision of the town each time.

But the system, in place since 1993, has come under fire after the most recent ruling by the board raised questions about the fairness of the current procedure.

On Sept. 30, 2003, Sgt. James Bloomfield, a 14-year veteran of the Oro Valley Police Department, was fired after an internal investigation reported he lied to his supervisors regarding an affair he had with another officer's girlfriend.

In October 2003, Bloomfield appealed to the grievance board, which had the power to uphold the firing, reinstate him to his position, or reinstate him with lesser discipline.

The firing was upheld by the GRB on April 8 by a 3 to 2 vote, with the three town employee members voting to fire Bloomfield and the two citizen members voting against it.

Grievance board member Linda Navarro clarified at the Oct. 25 study session that, while the board was unanimous in its decision regarding the facts in the Bloomfield case, what it was not unanimous on was the form of punishment that should result from the decision.

At the Oct. 25 study session, GRB members said the only department that has ever complained about the grievance process was the police department and that was only after the Bloomfield case had been decided.

All of the members said they believe the current process "works."

Of 331 surveys distributed in November, 180 employees responded.

Fifty-one of those employees want to see the process stay as it is with three employees, elected by their coworkers, and two citizens, appointed by the council.

But the most popular choice held by employees is to tweak the current board makeup by adding one additional employee member. Eighty-nine of the respondents prefer this change.

Two other responses received much less support, with 26 people voting to switch up the makeup so that there are three citizens and two employees, appointed in the same way in which they currently are chosen, and eight people supporting the fourth option to have two employees, two citizens and a fifth "neutral" member who would be selected for a specific grievance hearing.

Five police department employees wrote in their own response, supporting an all citizen board. Additionally, of nine employees who wrote comments on their survey, six were police department employees, five of which stated a preference for an all citizen board. The other comments included a police department employee asking that a member of equal rank be present at any grievance hearing, if the grievant was from the department.

However, of the 51 surveys returned from the police department, 20 response were in favor of option two, which would be a two citizen, four employee board.

When the GRB was first composed, Arizona cities and towns were polled to find out how each handled grievances, according to human resources director Jeff Grant, and then "ideas and elements" of those policies were combined to come up with Oro Valley's existing process.

A number of possible changes have been discussed by the council during the past months, including moving to a multilevel system where a grievance that involved a fireable offense is handled by a separate board than other complaints.

GRB Chair Jack Redavid has worked with the human resources department in the city of Tucson and said it uses a variety of different processes, depending on the kind of grievance. He said he is "not convinced" the town needs to go to such a multilevel system and that if Oro Valley's system is working, which he believes it is, there is no reason to change it.

At its last regular meeting Dec. 15, the council voted to extend the terms of the current board members through March 31 to allow time to make a decision on any changes in the board makeup.

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