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Personnel committee role defined

Farragut’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen debated the responsibilities of the Town’s personnel committee, and especially its role in grievances, at its meeting Jan. 8.

The personnel committee was charged with drafting a new charter, and specifically studying a formal procedure for handling grievances, at the Board’s Nov. 6 meeting. However, some Board members did not approve of the proposed charter and instead recommended Janet Curry, the Town’s new human resources director, draft a charter for the committee.

“The time has come to say the roles and objectives the personnel committee did in the past have now been assumed by [Curry],” Farragut Mayor Eddy Ford said.

The personnel committee, he said, should work with Curry and its responsibilities should reflect her authority.

Ford specifically mentioned the personnel committee serving double-duty as the Town’s grievance committee, mentioning the volunteers are not protected by the Town’s liability insurance.

Ford and Curry concurred no citizens should hear grievances from and between Town employees.

According to Curry, only two other municipalities in Tennessee have citizen personnel committees, and they “disbanded the grievance function many years ago.”

Ford specifically mentioned grievances filed in the past few months, both against Town Administrator Dan Olson.

“The way you conducted grievances deeply concerned me,” Ford told the personnel committee representatives.

He said two committee members applied for Curry’s job and were turned down. When the grievances were filed against Olson, who is in charge of hires, one of the members did not recuse himself as he should have.

According to Curry, personnel committee chair John Underwood asked her not to attend the grievance hearing.

“Who knows what employee in the future may turn around and threaten to sue the town of Farragut, and that may be due to the grievance process,” Ford said, alluding to a letter Town received from associate Town administrator Gary Palmer’s attorney, threatening suit against the Town and pursuing action with [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission].

Ford told the personnel committee Curry should draft a new charter for them.

“This is a staff-driven function,” he said.

“We do have a small town. It’s very difficult to have an independent grievance committee, and I think the personnel committee has done an admirable job in that sense,” Alderman Tom Rosseel said.

“I think we have probably the strongest personnel committee this Town has ever had.

“I would like to see you actively involved in the process and not limited,” he added.

He asked the personnel committee work from its proposed charter, accepting suggestions from Curry.

Rosseel said both of the recent grievances heavily involved Olson, and the personnel committee hearing grievances “provides the appropriate buffer.”

Curry responded that in an administrative chain of command, employees could report grievances either to her or to Olson.

“But you report to the Town Administrator … every employee knows the Town Administrator essentially sets their salary.

“And that’s where the issue is: there’s always the perception of retribution, whether it happens or not,” Rosseel said.

“I think the model we have has worked so far,” he added.

“The fact is, we’ve moved forward,” Vice Mayor J. Michael Haynes said.

“I think it is a great advantage to our employees that we have an H-R person,” he added.

Haynes also said the grievance process should be kept in-house.

“I think we need to decouple ourselves from an environment where our staff feels they can run to the personnel committee when they have a concern,” Ford said.

“We have not had staff running to us and I resent those comments,” personnel committee vice-chair Gary Schmitz said.

No action was taken, but the Board asked Curry and the committee work together to come up with a new charter.


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