The Oro Valley Town Council rejected a proposed restructuring of an Oro Valley town employee group at the Wednesday, Nov. 17 meeting.

The split vote passed with council members Bill Garner, Barry Gillaspie and Mary Snider joining Mayor Satish Hiremath in favor of the town manager reworking the proposal. Council members Joe Hornat, Steve Solomon and Lou Waters opposed the move.

The council asked that the proposal come back at a future meeting with more information.

Concerns over the proposal focused on perceptions that employees would have to attend excessive meetings, and that the council would be cut out of important personnel decisions.

The plan would have ended the current employee organization in favor of an organization focused on several teams and squads of staff volunteers and management team appointees.

Hornat led the charge against Town Manager Jerene Watson’s proposed restructuring.

“For me, I’d like to see this killed and put on a council forward,” Hornat said at last week’s meeting.

The councilman took issue with a proposed structure that he viewed as overly reliant on employee meetings.

“These people are overworked already, I don’t want to add to it,” Hornat said of town employees.

Under the rejected proposal, a “First Look Team” made up of seven volunteers selected by the town manager and executive management team would oversee smaller groups of employee volunteers, or “squads.” Squad membership would be made up of a supervisory level employee, a mid-level manager and a non-supervisor or management employee.

The squads would take up specific tasks and make recommendations that the First Look Team would have the authority to approve.

Hornat took particular issue with the aspect of the proposal that would have eliminated an annual council-presided meeting with town employees. At the meeting, put in place in the 1990s, council members were available to discuss workplace issues with staff members.

“This is an opportunity for them to bring their concerns forward to the council,” Hornat said. “I thought it was a good thing.”

The councilman said eliminating the annual meeting would shut out the council from employees. He wants any changes to still include the annual meeting between employees and elected officials. Councilman Solomon agreed.

“I think we need to rework this to have some kind of council participation,” Solomon said. “I’m not comfortable in saying to employees ‘you can no longer approach council’.”

Councilman Garner also expressed concerns over the change.

“I have attended this meeting in the past and I didn’t see any conundrum,” Garner said, referencing language in the proposal describing the council and staff meeting.

Garner said he wanted the town to institute an 800-like telephone number for employees to call and anonymously report workplace issues or concerns.

Town Human Resources Director Betty Dickens said the suggestion had been considered, but was deemed problematic because of the anonymous nature and inability to follow through.

Dickens also noted the proposal under consideration at the meeting was not intended to replace the existing employee-grievance policies and procedures.

She also told the council that the existing employee organization has dwindled to a handful of active participants, and that the new plan was an employee initiative.

Gillaspie, a long-serving council member, said in the past the annual employee meeting wasn’t conducted with much direction or planning and council members usually did most of the talking.

“We ended up talking at the employees,” Gillaspie said.

Watson told the council that employees had only expressed negative opinions to her about the existing group. She added the proposed changed enjoyed widespread support.

“I believe that this voice that’s going to be given to the employees is supported by the employees,” Watson said.

She also said the employee groups would handle matters the council normally wouldn’t, especially day-to-day personnel issues.

“As chairman of the board, I don’t think you want to deal with these kinds of personnel issues,” Watson said.

Mayor Hiremath agreed, saying he doesn’t want to concern the council with workplace issues.

“These are base-level issues we’re talking about,” Hiremath said.

The council decided to have the town manager rework the proposal and return with more information at the Dec. 1 meeting.

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