Borough struggles to amend employee handbook

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 6/9/20

HONESDALE, PA — Councilor Robert Jennings has made repeated attempts to change the grievance policy in the borough’s employee handbook. His third try proved to be the charm at the June 1 …

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Borough struggles to amend employee handbook

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HONESDALE, PA — Councilor Robert Jennings has made repeated attempts to change the grievance policy in the borough’s employee handbook. His third try proved to be the charm at the June 1 borough council meeting.

Up until the meeting, the policy directed employees to bring grievances about supervisors to borough secretary/manager Judy Poltanis. Some of the longer-serving councilors have expressed annoyance with the secretary/manager position since it was created. Most of their complaints revolve around the position being too powerful and creating too much regulation. 

In the case of the grievance policy, Jennings said there was a conflict of interest when an employee’s complaint is about the secretary/manager herself. On May 4, when Jennings first brought the issue up, the borough tabled his motion and asked Jennings to take more time to review the language of the policy with solicitor Richard Henry.

Jennings presented a motion with new wording at the next meeting. No councilors provided a second, because they were not given a copy of the motion prior to the meeting. Jennings accused President Mike Augello of trying to “stall” and told the rest of the council, “I know what you’re all up to.” Augello responded that “decisions made in haste… can sometimes go very south.”

At the most recent meeting, Jennings once again moved to change the policy to read: “Should the grievance be against an employee’s immediate supervisor and/or department head, the employee shall submit his/her grievance directly to the chairman of the borough grievance committee and council president.” This change removes the secretary/manager from the process completely.

Councilor James Brennan seconded the motion. After a roll call vote, there was a tie of three yes votes, three no votes and one abstention. Augello voted no because he said he had not received a copy of the motion, Bill Canfield abstained for the same reason. James Jennings voted no, saying that he only received a copy one hour before the meeting began. Mayor Sarah Canfield cast a tie-breaking yes vote, and so the motion carried.

Jennings then moved for another employee handbook change, this time concerning a passage stating that the police chief reports to the mayor, safety committee chair and borough secretary/manager. He proposed amending it so that the police chief would report only to the mayor and safety committee chair.

James Jennings and Mike Augello voted no, and Bill Canfield abstained, all for the same reasons as before. The other four councilors voted yes, however, so the motion carried.

With those two motions passed, Brennan began reading a motion to authorize the solicitor to generally review, revise and update the handbook and provide a draft for the council to review. As Brennan was reading the motion, councilors Canfield and James Jennings interrupted him, voicing their opposition.

“Why did we just make changes to the handbook, and then you’re going to have a review of the handbook? That makes no sense,” Jennings said. Canfield called it “ridiculous” and “counterproductive.”

During a roll call vote, Brennan, Robert Jennings and Jared Newbon voted yes, Augello, Canfield and Jason Newbon voted no. Tied at 3-3, James Jennings hesitated to cast the final vote. An argument among the council members ensued, during which Augello said, “This is completely the wrong way to run our borough.” 

James Jennings struggled to decide but ultimately voted no. The motion failed 4-3.

During the public comment portion, local resident Bill Musgrove again brought up a decade-old dispute with his neighbors, who are New York City residents but own a house on Freethy Pond Road. Since March, the borough took solicitor Richard Henry’s recommendation and promised legal action against the property owners unless they made “corrective action” before April 13.

“I don’t know where we are now, but it’s June 1 as you know, and once again my wife and I are living next door to an absolute dump and a jungle,” Musgrove said at the most recent meeting. He added that the grass was four feet high and the yard is home to “critters” as well as “gnats, mosquitoes [and] rodents.” He said for years the borough has given him “the runaround.”

Canfield promised that he and Department of Public Works Director Dan Brown would both personally come to mow and weed whack the yard until the situation is resolved.

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