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Council workshop addresses meeting rules, personnel policies

The way citizens interact with city councilmen will likely change at future Sunnyside City Council meetings.

That was one of the discussion points during a nearly 90-minute workshop council held last night, Monday.

It still needs formal council action, probably at the April 14 regular meeting, but Mayor Paul Garcia's suggestion to move the citizen comment period up earlier on the agenda appears to be gaining traction with council members.

Currently, the public comment period comes near the end of the meetings, after council has already taken action.

There was also support last night for opening the comment period up to agenda items, which is currently not allowed.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock cautioned that an extended comment period toward the beginning of the meeting might delay the actions and decisions council members have to take later in the meeting. She also noted that an early comment period might set up a scenario where a citizen comments on a later agenda item without the benefit of first hearing council and staff discussion.

Councilman Tom Gehlen pushed for an early citizen comment period, even before the consent agenda, to give people an opportunity to comment before decisions are made.

A suggestion by Councilman Bruce Epps was to receive public comment earlier, but with a time limit.

Garcia asked staff to research the possibility of earlier public comment, with the proviso that the time could be limited. Garcia also noted that for particularly heated issues council could always hold a public hearing dedicated to that one item to gain more input.

Any change in the council agenda will require formal action.

Last night council also discussed the lack of a comprehensive personnel policy for city employees.

In what will likely be a multi-step process, council agreed last night to approach individual portions of the personnel policy. The starting point will be council's relationship in overseeing the city manager position. The city is currently looking to hire a new city manager, and Garcia said he would like something in place which allows council to have more review of the city manager's job performance.

Speaking of job performance, council is also excited about the idea of not only having supervisors review employees, but for employees to review their supervisors' job performance.

Also under consideration is changing the way employees receive raises. Currently all Sunnyside city employees automatically receive a step increase in pay each year for the first five years.

Epps said he would like to see a pay raise range, so that those who excel can receive higher pay raises than those who do not.

"You will have people who exceed expectations and they should be rewarded," Epps said.

Interim City Manager Mark Kunkler advised that any changes to the current pay schedule will have to be subject to collective bargaining agreements with unionized employees.

Council wants to have the pay changes in place early enough so that pay raises can be budgeted for 2009.

Regarding a personnel policy, council would like to have it in place before the new city manager is hired.

"The city manager's job isn't to make policy, it's to implement it," said Hancock.

The Sunnyside City Council's next regularly scheduled meeting will be Monday, March 24.

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