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New Port Richey lets its workers talk

Saying he needs to better explain his intention, City Manager Gerald Seeber has rescinded a memo that reminds city employees not to speak to City Council members about internal city matters.

In a memo dated Feb. 14 to city employees, Seeber wrote that he learned that some employees were "somewhat confused by the intent and enforcement of this new policy" and decided to rescind it until a better one can be formed.

"I was concerned about possible misinterpretation of what I am trying to do," Seeber said Thursday.

In the first memo, dated Jan. 30, Seeber reminded city employees that the city charter prohibits them from approaching City Council members about personnel problems without first talking with the city manager.

Although Seeber said at the time that no specific incident prompted the memo, it came to light soon thereafter that a police officer, concerned about the loss of a sergeant's position, spoke to a council member about the decision.

Council member Wendy Brenner, who did not know about the new memo until it was read to her by the Times, said she is glad Seeber is rethinking the memo.

"I was kind of appalled by the idea of his putting out (the first) memo," she said. "It wasn't the greatest idea to do."

Brenner said the first memo had a chilling effect on many city employees, who immediately stopped speaking to council members.

"No one wanted to talk to me," she said. "I would see people walking down the street and they would say, "Whoops, not allowed to talk to you.'

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Seeber said that the idea wasn't to suppress free speech, but to maintain the chain of command. Any employee who has a problem with the city's management should consult him first. The first memo indicated that any employee found in violation of the policy could be disciplined.

Seeber said he will develop a more detailed policy concerning chain of command and speaking to council members. In the meantime, the same rules that employees were abiding by before the memo controversy still stand, he said.

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