Beginning Monday, City Hall employees will once again be available to serve the public during the noon hour.
The El Dorado City Council promptly resolved the matter Thursday after Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer asked council members how they would like to address it and after hearing from a City Hall staff member.
The issue revolved around a decision by the El Dorado City Council to eliminate compensatory time for civilian employees, effective Jan. 1.
On Dec. 20, the council voted to a buyout of $192,560.66 for the remaining comp time that was owed to city employees.
When Smith-Creer stepped into the mayor’s office for her first full day of work Jan. 2, some City Hall employees told her they had used comp time for a rotation schedule to answer phones and assist citizens who came to the municipal building to conduct business during the lunch hour.
“People come up here to buy trash bags or to buy permits and conduct business, and for some, that’s the only time they have during the day to take care of business,” Council Member Dianne Hammond said Thursday.
Council members Billy Blann and Vance Williamson asked how the comp time lined out for City Hall employees during a 40-hour work week.
Hammond noted that some employees would mitigate the time by leaving early on Friday.
Smith-Creer noted that some City Hall workers were in the audience, and she called Debbie Stinson, administrative assistant in the Department of Public Works, to the lectern.
Stinson explained that staffers would rotate weeks during which one employee would work during the noon hour.
“Everyone had a week they were responsible for, and they would work the lunch hour five days a week. We take it an hour at a time, maybe leave early on Friday or if we have to go to the doctor or something like that,” she said.
“City Hall has only one product to sell and that is service to the public. If we close the door five hours a week, then you’re cutting that service,” Blann said.
The council subsequently voted unanimously in favor of a suggestion by Council Member Mike Rice to stagger lunchbreaks for City Hall employees.
Council Member Willie McGhee said the arrangement would also provide an opportunity to cross-train city employees — an issue for which he has long advocated.
Smith-Creer said a new schedule would be worked out and staff members will be available to serve the public during the lunch hour next week.
In other business, the council adopted a couple of changes to its operating rules for 2019.
Referring to the Mayor’s Forum with the Audience, McGhee said he did not think the idea “went well.”
The forum was instituted during former Mayor Frank Hash’s two successive terms, the second of which ended Dec. 31, and replaced the public comment period that had previously been a fixed part of the council’s agenda for regular meetings.
“We stopped people from coming before us. We stopped the path of the people we work for from getting to us,” McGhee said.
Under Hash’s direction, the council established a process by which citizens could lodge complaints with the city, starting with a complaint form that is available in the mayor’s office.
Grievances are first presented to department supervisors and then, the mayor.
If complaints are not satisfactorily resolved by supervisors or the mayor, then the complainant can submit a written request to appear on the council’s agenda.
McGhee said that he had received complaints from citizens who said their requests to appear before the council were denied in the mayor’s office.
He also said that when residents met with Hash during a Mayor’s Forum, council members often did not hear if the issue was resolved.
“I think that’s where we were dropping the ball. We did not get a follow-up on the issue. I think it should be monitored better,” McGhee said.
Participating in his first meeting as a new council member, Andre Rucks said he would like to keep abreast of issues in the ward he represents — Ward 3, Position 2 —, as well as issues from residents in the city’s other three wards.
“It’s about the whole city. We represent the whole city,” Rucks said.
Hammond suggested that council members who represent the ward in which complaints originate meet with the complainant along with the mayor during the post-council meeting forums.
“We’ll make sure to the report it to the rest of the council at the next meeting,” she said.
The council also added an operating rule that prohibits elected city officials from using cellphones and other such electronic devices during council meetings.
The new rule was proposed by Council Member Judy Ward.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.