November 4, 2009 9:45:00 AM
City employees accustomed to using tobacco on the job have less than two weeks left to enjoy their habit.
The Starkville Board of Aldermen in September adopted a tobacco-free workplace policy for employees, set to go into effect Nov. 15. Employees won''t be allowed to use any tobacco products, from cigarettes and cigars to snuff and chewing tobacco, on city property, in city vehicles or in city parking lots.
Aldermen in September said they hoped employees would take part in tobacco-cessation programs to help ease the transition to a tobacco-free workplace.
Mayor Parker Wiseman Tuesday acknowledged some employees might have "difficulties" breaking their tobacco habits at work, but said it is necessary to promote good health. Plus, the city''s health insurance rates have dropped by an undisclosed amount due to the tobacco-free workplace policy, Wiseman said.
The mayor and other city leaders have spoken with department heads in recent weeks to prepare employees for the transition.
"Everybody understands it is a policy that the governing body of the city has duly adopted and it was in the best interests of the city, particularly given the opportunity to lower our health insurance rates," Wiseman said. "Everybody is on board and ready to go."
In other city business Tuesday, a seemingly routine hire turned into a debate over the prospective employee''s salary.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins felt the salary of $32,680 a year for the manager of support services in the Public Services Department was "too much." He expressed the opinion to city Personnel Director Randy Boyd Tuesday during discussion of the new hire.
"Mr. Boyd, this position, in my opinion, is overpaid," Perkins said. "There is no basis, in my opinion, for this new employee to come in and make more than employees who are already in the city, including some deputy city clerks, including other secretarial employees, that have provided very valuable services."
"We have personnel in administrative assistants in departments throughout the city and this is just an overpayment here," he continued. "I just don''t think it''s justified. Even though this is budgeted for this, I don''t see why we have to offer top-dollar to someone who has to have a minimum of a high school diploma. With the state of the economy, I think we need to be watching our dollars a little bit more."
Boyd told Perkins the salary for the position has not increased in the years since the position existed. And he said the position requires managing personnel and other duties "above and beyond" those of deputy city clerks and administrative assistants.
Still, Perkins was not satisfied.
"We have people working for the city for years who don''t make this kind of money," he said. "It''s just not fair to those who have demonstrated their service to the city."
Perkins also didn''t like how three current city employees applied for the job, but the person chosen to fill the position was not chosen from the "in-house" pool of candidates. Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn also was frustrated a current city employee wasn''t selected to fill the position.
"They couldn''t be trained to fill that position?" Vaughn asked Boyd.
"Alderman Vaughn, I''m not going to tell you that they could not be trained, but our interest was to try to find the best qualified candidate for that position," Boyd said.
The board voted 5-2 to hire Margot Barnette as manager of support services in the Public Services Department. Only Perkins and Vaughn voted against the hire.
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