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Staff policies, re-districting top priorities of councilmen

The Sunnyside City Council's wish list of more than 20 items to review was prioritized last night to a handful that will be tackled right away.

"There are a lot of issues that we have to deal with," Mayor Paul Garcia told council members during a roundtable study session Monday night. "We need to prioritize them so the really important ones can come to the top."

Garcia polled council members on their top three priorities, with personnel policy, re-districting and reviewing council procedures making the list.

Ironing out a personnel policy took top priority, in part, because council is seeking candidates for the city manager position.

Councilman Tom Gehlen wants to make sure specifics are spelled out in the next city manager contract regarding his or her responsibilities, as well as council's responsibility in overseeing the position.

After Garcia sought clarification, council agreed there would be one personnel policy that would apply to the city manager post as well.

Council set another study session for Monday, March 17, to discuss personnel policy issues and, in related news, get the process rolling on evaluating the city's current pay step mechanism.

Garcia said the pay step issue needs to be addressed in time for the 2009 budget discussion because he felt it wouldn't be right to ask staff to take a pay freeze for a second consecutive year.

Also on the March 17 session, council will review its own rules and procedures in conducting city council meetings.

Timing is also a factor in council's focus on re-districting, a move in which council hopes to see more citizen involvement in government by having council positions seated based on geographic districts.

In order to have the districts in place, council needs to have the county draw up the district boundaries. The whole process has to be wrapped up by next April in order for the new districts to be in play on the November 2009 general election.

Council is looking at a study session sometime in mid-April to study districting, with the date to be determined based on when county officials can meet with council.

Given the city's tight budget for 2008, council also expressed a priority to receive monthly budget updates to see how departments are faring in meeting fiscal guidelines.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock said she was concerned that three months into the year council still hasn't received a financial update in 2008. "Quite honestly I don't feel very much in the loop," she said.

Recalling the budget problems at the end of 2007, Councilman Bruce Epps shared Hancock's concern. "I don't want to be behind that 8-ball again," he said. "I don't like it."

Council agreed that not only should it be receiving those reports, which have been delayed, in part, due to the city's fiscal software, but wants the police department to include an accounting for overtime in its monthly report.

Epps listed the formation of a parks district as a priority to help with funding programs and park amenities. He pointed to last summer's problems with 30 or so city park trees that had to be trimmed or cut down and noted the city lacked a funding mechanism to pay for the tree maintenance.

Accordingly, council agreed to set a work session on Monday, May 5, to discuss the formation of a parks district, which would require voter approval to become reality.

Each of the council special topic work sessions will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Law and Justice Building, site of council's regularly scheduled meetings on the second and fourth Mondays of each month.

The work sessions, in which no action will be taken, will last for about an hour each and are open to the public.

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