April 9, 2014 10:23:59 AM
West Point selectmen voted Tuesday to strike language in their employee policy that required all city employees to reside in Clay County.
The 3-2 decision came after a 30-minute debate over employee loyalty to the West Point community and the need to fill job positions that have been long vacated. Department heads will still be required to live in Clay County, but other city employees no longer have to move there within six months of gaining employment with the city if they don't already live there.
Jimmy Clark, Keith McBrayer and Gary Dedeaux voted in favor, with Linda Hannah and William Binder in dissent.
Clark and McBrayer said priority on job openings should be given to the most qualified candidates who already live in West Point or want to move there, but the exclusivity of the policy disqualified good job candidates who lived near but not inside the county.
"If you have two candidates of equal skill set with one in Clay County and one living outside of Clay County, I don't think there's a person up here who wouldn't lean toward the Clay County resident," McBrayer said. "We have vacancies that have gone unfilled for quite some time and we're in a competitive job market where other communities are pulling resources from us. We've got people living here and working in other communities because they allow it. I want that skill set here."
Hannah wanted to wait until the next meeting to clarify the language before officially making it city policy. She made a counter motion to Clark's motion to strike the residency requirement. It failed for lack of a second.
"It doesn't hurt to have discussion, but what I'm saying is it wouldn't hurt for us to come together and look at those policies," Hannah said. "I personally think that if a person works in West Point, they should take enough pride to want to be part of the community. I (want to) try and get some ideas from all of us and come together with something solid that we can put on paper and look at without saying, 'Let's insert this.' Let's put it in black and white, look it over and come to some type of agreement."
Clark disputed Hannah's comment that more time was needed to review the requirement, saying the process had been ongoing for more than three months.
"We didn't just start checking into this yesterday. This has been ongoing for some time," Clark said. "This will help us get people in here and fill positions."
Police Chief Tim Brinkley was one of several department heads who said he would hire according to board policy, but he had also lost qualified candidates to the residency requirement. Public Works Director Dwight Prisock said he'd been looking for a lineman for four years.
"We have run into some challenges finding qualified applicants in the county even after advertising," Brinkley said. "Over the past two months, I've turned away at least two very good applicants, one of which I would have hired on the spot with the board's approval. He's in Verona. When I explained the residency policy, that was the end of it. He's established. His children are in school and his wife works up there. He simply couldn't come."
Dedeaux suggested a 30-60 day time period of advertising job openings within the city before expanding searches to a 40-50 mile radius. That did not make it to the final motion.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
1. Eagles flourish in Golden Triangle COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Mayoral candidate to seek counseling COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Inaugural MUW Symposium plays to overflow crowds, rave reviews COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Superintendent candidates see great potential in SOCSD STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY