Future panels that review appeals of severe disciplinary actions taken against town of Marana employees shall consist entirely of citizens, the Marana Town Council decided May 5.

The council is also its town manager giving final authority over Personnel Action Review Board decisions. Previously, PARB findings have been binding.

The board's makeup is changing from a mix of citizens and employees. Surveyed employees expressed the belief that it "must be a board that is unbiased," said Suzanne Machain, Marana's director of human resources.

Machain said two of 14 surveyed Arizona towns had employees on those boards. In the majority of studied governments, personnel grievances are heard by an all-citizen board, or by a hearing officer.

Machain pointed out advantages and disadvantages to each choice. "One distinguishing factor between the two is a citizens board would be more neutral than a combined citizen / employee panel," employees told Machain.

The council was given the options of an all-citizen or a combined citizen / employee panel, Machain said. "We are seeking a decision and approval tonight for one of those options," she added.

The change passed by a 6-0 vote; Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler was absent.

During an April 21 reading on the proposal, Ziegler expressed concern with a PARB decision being "advisory" to the town manager, rather than binding.

"I guess I'm having a problem with that," Ziegler said. "To have that board not be able to make that decision … I just don't want that taken from the board, and put into the hands of the town manager, who may have very little interface" with the employee.

If the town manager makes a decision different than the PARB recommendation, he or she "would be required to state in writing the reasons for the modification or reversal," Machain said. "He or she must follow a procedure if they believe a decision should be altered."

Machain thinks it would be "a rare occurrence that an advisory decision would be overturned or modified" by a town manager.

Marana's longest PARB hearing was the 10-day process involving Assistant Chief of Police Barbara Harris, who was reinstated to her position by a part-citizen, part-employee panel late last year.

Health insurance plans may save town money

In an effort to save money next fiscal year, two new health insurance plans have been created for town of Marana employees.

Town workers can opt for a Blue Cross / Blue Shield plan with lower deductible and out-of-pocket expenses and higher premiums, "closest to what the employees now enjoy," human resources director Suzanne Machain said.

A second BC/BS plan, with higher deductibles and lower premiums, is also on the table.

The revamped offerings could save Marana $222,262 next fiscal year, according to a presentation made by assistant town manager Deb Thalasitis, Machain and others at the May 5 council meeting.

Don Heilman, area senior vice president with the insurance consulting firm Gallagher Benefit Services Inc., said town management and his firm "saw the budget realities you are facing," and came up with the new proposals.

Marana now pays 86 percent of an employee's total premium, to include dependents, and 100 percent of employee-only premiums. In the new year, the town would pay 84 percent of the premium, with employees choosing among the plan options.

"We wanted to balance the budget the best we can while affording the employees choice," Heilman said.

Ann Berkman, employee relations administrator for the town of Marana, said the town wants to "emphasize the employees' ability to manage costs."

Open enrollment in the new options is mandatory. "Every eligible employee must elect, or waive, every benefit in the plan," Berkman said. Open enrollment occurs between May 11 and June 1. Marana held a wellness benefits fair last Friday to help introduce the options.

"This is some of the best work I've seen in many years on this council," Mayor Ed Honea said. Councilman Russell Clanagan agreed.

Prelim plat OK'd, with words about petroglyphs, wildlife

A preliminary plat for a 91-lot subdivision in north Marana has been approved by the town council, though two residents urged caution because they believe land uses could infringe upon petroglyphs and wildlife passage.

Developers of Tapestry Estates sought plat approval for Lots 62-153, a second phase of development in an open area between Camino de Oeste and Thornydale Road north of Moore Road.

Sarah Kennedy expressed concerns "regarding the proximity of the Tapestry Estates development to a sensitive archaeological area." Kennedy said there are 10 panels of petroglyphs near three particular lots that may be "archaic," dating up to 8,000 years ago.

"These are not just any petroglyphs," Kennedy said. "This is an important cultural resource to the town of Marana."

Town Planner Kevin Kish said Marana had received a letter from Desert Archaeology Inc., about the petroglyphs, asking for sensitivity with regard to any nearby disturbance or trail development.

Kish said Marana is working with professionals to evaluate options with regard to the sensitive areas. A trail near the petroglyphs may be relocated "so they don't create an attractive nuisance for people using the trail to go over there and potentially vandalize them," he said. Marana may also post signage that details the sensitivity of rock art and discourages defacement. "It hasn't been finalized," Kish said.

John Kennedy said a draft habitat conservation plan for Marana has a wildlife linkage corridor in a wash "through the middle of Tapestry Estates." He asked the council to "make sure the wash, and the area surrounding the wash, are maintained as a vital animal corridor linkage."

"Is there a need for a road to bridge this wash?" Kennedy asked. "If so, I hope it would adhere to the criteria to facilitate animal traffic."

The preliminary plat was approved without dissent Tuesday, May 5.

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