To stop employees from skirting the chain of command, City Manager Gerald Seeber has issued a memo reminding them that they are not allowed to discuss city business with council members.
The memo, sent at the end of January to all city employees and council members, warns employees that such discussion directly violates the city charter. Seeber said any employee who has a problem with the city's management should consult him first.
"It is important that if you have a problem internally, you follow the chain of command," Seeber said. "That wasn't happening. People were going outside (the chain), going directly to the City Council to deal with these situations. It wasn't appropriate."
Seeber wouldn't discuss any specific incident or incidents that might have prompted his memo.
However, council members Debra Prewitt and Wendy Brenner said Seeber's memo came out soon after a personnel dispute was brought to Brenner's attention. It started when a police captain retired, and rather than promote someone to replace the captain, Seeber recommended combining the captain's position with that of a training sergeant. The move would save the city $45,000 but would eliminate a position.
A police officer concerned about the loss spoke to Brenner in her office about it, Brenner said. She said she later mentioned the conversation to Seeber.
According to Seeber's memo, any employee found in violation of the policy could be disciplined.
One council member, Willie Partridge, criticized the tone of Seeber's memo, saying it could have a chilling effect on employees speaking out.
"I oftentimes run across city employees, and in the last two weeks, every one of them has referenced that letter with a statement like, "I don't know whether I should be talking to you or not,'
" Partridge said. "Whether intended to be a gag rule or not, it certainly has affected the employees as being a gag rule."
Seeber argued that it's not a gag rule.
"I would have worded it differently: "Thou shalt not talk to anybody,'
" he said. "I'm not trying to curtail anyone's freedom of speech. I'm just trying to remind them of their responsibilities as employees. If they don't like the way the organization is being managed and don't like the way the city council and manager are, then I suggest they find another job."