Village council continues to define the finer points of a proposed new personnel policy that would allow employees to record conversations during disciplinary hearings.
The idea of “requests to record” came under scrutiny this summer following a dispute between the village administration and a worker. The village currently has no policy in place regarding employees’ taping meetings with officials, Village Solicitor Jim Barney said Wednesday.
Councilman Jim Seaman, a member of the policy and personnel committee, rehashed the issue before Oak Harbor Village Council at a meeting in early November.
The committee, Seaman said, has considered taking the recording verbiage out of the proposed policy revision. They would like to instead consider replacing it with strict guidelines to keep the process moving and allowing staff time to seek legal representation.
“I am not in favor of taking employees’ right to record out,” Councilman Jon Fickert said. “We just put it in.”
Part of the reasoning behind the move is how public records would be handled in these cases, Seaman said.
If employers opt to tape meetings they must legally advise employees that hearings are being taped. And employees have the right to ask for a copy, officials noted.
But what about the recordings made by the employees? Mayor Bill Eberle noted council may not be privy to them.
For instance, Barney explained, an employee could tape the hearing, slip the device into his/her pocket and then leave. If they don’t honor a request for a copy, council may have to consider what consequences to stipulate in the policy.
“You give the village credit and not the employee,” Fickert argued.
Councilwoman Donna Wendt agreed that the right to record must stay in the policy revision but that the specifics need more work.
Members continued to banter the legalities until councilman Brad Weis made a final suggestion.
“If he (or she) requests to record, then we will record, too.”
Council seemed satisfied with the alternative and directed Seaman to return the changes to committee for further review.
The recording issue came to a head this spring when staffer Joe Reau attempted to use his cell phone to record a pre-disciplinary hearing regarding a work issue.
Reau told those present his lawyer could not attend, Eberle said in an interview after the meeting. He said he did not have a good memory and had been advised to tape the meeting and turned on the recording device of his cell phone, the mayor continued. He was asked to turn it off and said he did not know how to, the mayor added.
“He was asked three times to turn it off and he refused,” Eberle said.
His refusal led to his firing for insubordination, the mayor said.
Reau, who has been a member of the village crew since 1997, reached a compromise with village officials and recently returned to work.