The Atascadero City Council voted at its Oct. 26 meeting to confer with its worker unions to modify the city’s policy on vacation time.
Former city councilman Mike Brennler and other residents have been hounding the City Council for months about the city’s habit of violating its own personnel rules.
A New Times review of Atascadero city records revealed that at least 22 employees have been piling on vacation time in violation of city rules. These employees have compiled more than 8,000 vacation hours over city rule limits. If those hours were cashed in, the payout would cost the city more than $400,000.
The city financial committee met on Oct. 18 to deal with the issue and suggested that the council confer with its worker unions to clarify the vacation policy.
Because the city has been ignoring its personnel rules for 20 years, it has established a legal precedent. To change the present practice, the city is legally required to “meet and confer” with its labor unions.
Rachelle Rickard, the city administrative services director, said keeping the present policy might be the most financially prudent course. She said that when employees’ vacation times are paid off at the end of their careers, it costs the city nothing in benefits or overtime compared to when the employee actually takes a vacation.
Rickard had amassed more than 600 hours of vacation time over the personnel rule limits as of Sept. 9, according to city documents.
Councilman Jerry Clay seemed content with the present system and objected to claims by some people in the audience who seemed to blame City Manager Wade McKinney for not enforcing the rule.
“So a good argument could be made we save money, not lose money [with the present policy],” he said. “We have one of the best city managers in the state. This keeps us from other issues, which are so much more important, like economic development in our town. We keep messing around with these issues, which, again, never cost us any money.”
Still, all the members of the City Council seemed to realize they need to deal with the issue.
“This is a problem long in coming,” said Councilman Brian Sturtevant. “Whatever we do we need to get on board with the unions. … I’d love to see this [policy] more clear—we need to find a way to be more fiscally responsible for the future.”