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Cleveland City Manager Janice Casteel

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The Cleveland City Council wants to consult with a workplace law expert before approving a suite of changes to the city's personnel policies.

Key highlights of those changes address disciplinary procedures, including the elimination of waiting periods for suspensions and terminations, as well as ending appeal processes associated with those and other disciplinary actions.

On Monday, the City Council voted 6-0 to delay a planned vote concerning personnel policy changes and instead seek the advice of Nashville attorney J. Gregory Grisham.

A thorough vetting by a workplace law expert is what is needed before any policy decisions are made by the City Council, Councilman Richard Banks said.

"This will help us stay out of chancery court and out of the front page of the newspaper," he said.

Grisham was recommended by local attorney Andrew Pippenger, Banks said.

Grisham's focus is "preventative practices," which are intended to help employers avoid lawsuits, according to his website.

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Cleveland City Councilman Richard Banks
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Cleveland City Councilman David May

Councilman David May described the current personnel policy manual — which dates back 20 years, but has been subjected to revisions — as "piecemeal."

Although City Manager Janice Casteel said she supported the City Council's decision to seek a consultant, she also recommended that policy change decisions be made as soon as possible.

"I have disciplinary actions on hold," said Casteel, stating that whatever policy is in place will dictate how disciplinary actions are carried out.

Casteel did not name any employees, but three Cleveland police officers have been placed under internal investigation in the last six weeks. In early August, two married officers were placed on leave after it was discovered that they met with women, who they encountered while on duty, at a Gatlinburg cabin for a weekend party. Another officer is under investigation after his car was reported stolen and found burned.

"Right now, if we hold an appeal, an attorney will appeal that we held an appeal," Casteel said.

Currently, city employees may appeal major disciplinary actions with the city manager, who is also the chief disciplinarian for the city government.

A pair of recently demoted police officers have sought to overturn their demotions by means of a Bradley County Chancery Court ruling, citing an inherent conflict in the city's appeal process.

Council members questioned whether new policies would apply to actions taken prior to their adoption and voiced a desire to avoid rushing through their review of policy changes.

Updated policies will apply the day they are adopted going forward, said City Attorney John Kimball.

According to a timeline of recommendations previously presented by law enforcement consultant Larry Wallace, the City Council was scheduled for a Sept. 14 vote on city personnel changes recommended by committees tasked with synchronizing the city's personnel manual and the Cleveland Police Department's Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement manual.

Kimball, who was to recommend revisions to the City's Personnel Committee as part of the policy overhaul plan, deferred all questions concerning proposed personnel policy changes to Casteel.

Casteel said it was determined the CALEA standards are pretty much in line with city personnel polices and do not require official adoption by the City Council, citing city codes that empower the police chief to adopt departmental policies.

No mention of synchronization of city and police department policies was specifically mentioned in Monday's agenda or meeting.

Cleveland's current manual states that the city manager and department heads administer personnel rules in accordance with federal and state law, the city charter, ordinances, resolutions "and any other policies adopted by the City Council which deal in any way with personnel matters."

Proposed changes to administrative policy include the addition of "any rules, regulations, general orders or standard operating procedures adopted by any city department pursuant to any authority granted by the Charter or the Cleveland Municipal Code" to that administrative policy.

A proposed expansion to the city's employee dismissal policy has been worded to include "individual department policies" in addition to the any policies listed within the city charter.

"With these updated policies, we want to run the city more like a business," Casteel said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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