Council clarifies hiring freeze procedures

On Monday night’s Henderson City Council meeting agenda was a request to fill vacancies in several city departments.

Three positions at the Recreation Department remain unfilled, including that of aquatics director. There are four unfilled positions at the Police Department, including three police officers. Two positions are open at the Fire Department, for a firefighter and fire lieutenant/inspector. There are also two vacancies in Public Utilities and five in Public Works.

All of the positions are budgeted, meaning that the salaries were accounted for in the fiscal 2005-06 budget. Any salary and related expenses not paid out as a result of the hiring freeze represent a savings for the city.

During council deliberation on the issue, there was some question as to the procedure to follow regarding the current hiring freeze. The freeze was established at the request of council member Ranger Wilkerson at the City Council meeting Oct. 28.

Mayor Clem Seifert initially stated that the hiring freeze had simply put another layer of authorization onto the hiring process. Where the city manager would normally approve the filling of a position at the request of a department head, under the new hiring freeze, the City Council would give final approval.

City Manager Eric Williams reported to the council that he had interpreted the Oct. 28 motion to mean that department heads go directly to the council to have a position unfrozen. He recommended that the positions in question be referred to committee, either the Finance and Intergovernmental Relations committee, the Human Resources committee, or a council work session.

He advised members that the full council session was not the best place to have the discussion, as he could go “department by department” to discuss the merits of filling each position in detail.

In the case of the Police Department, Williams told the council, “We need to be clear.” When the chief comes with a candidate, Williams said, the city does not want to send a “mixed signal” about whether it is hiring.

Later in the debate, Police Chief Glen Allen stated that he wanted authorization to extend an offer to qualified candidates should the opportunity present itself. Henderson suffers from a chronic shortage of qualified law enforcement officers.

At the end of the debate, Williams recommend that the council not unfreeze the requested positions, citing a need to see auditor’s figures and a desire to speak to department heads about the implications of not filling the positions. He stated that he did not think that two weeks would jeopardize the work the city has to do.