City mulls re­do­ing its travel pol­icy

Wheat St. project ap­proved

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

Cov­ing­ton of­fi­cials are con­sid­er­ing re­vis­ing the city’s em­ployee travel pol­icy, to give more flex­i­bil­ity for overnight stays for train­ing classes and con­fer­ences, but coun­cil mem­bers dis­agreed on whether the change was needed now or should be stud­ied fur­ther.

The coun­cil voted 4-3, with Mayor Ron­nie John­ston cast­ing the tie-break­ing vote, to ta­ble a de­ci­sion on the travel pol­icy, which would have al­lowed city em­ploy­ees to ask for overnight lodg­ing if a con­fer­ence or class was mul­ti­ple days and was 35 miles or far­ther away from Cov­ing­ton City Hall.

The pre­vi­ous pol­icy had only al­lowed overnight lodg­ing to be granted if a class was more than 50 miles away from City Hall. Both the cur­rent pol­icy and new pol­icy also would grant overnight ac­com­mo­da­tions in cases where a sin­gle-day class is 50 miles or more away from City Hall. City Hall is used as the mea­sur­ing point, be­cause em­ploy­ees can live all over the county or even in a dif­fer­ent county, which would in­crease time and ef­fort to process pa­per­work.

Coun­cil­women Janet Good­man, Ocie Franklin and Hawnethia Wil­liams op­posed tabling the topic as they were pre­pared to vote in fa­vor of it, while Coun­cil­men Keith Dal­ton, Chris Smith and Mike What­ley and Mayor John­ston felt the topic needed more dis­cus­sion.

City Man­ager Leigh Anne Knight said she was asked to bring the topic be­fore the coun­cil.

When asked, she said the cur­rent pol­icy does not pre­vent em­ploy­ees from get­ting the train­ing they need, but she also said the re­vised pol­icy was viewed as a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive than po­ten­tially hav­ing em­ploy­ees on the road late at night.

Coun­cil­man Smith said the city of Madi­son’s pol­icy only pays for overnight stays if a class is 60 miles away. Knight said Ox­ford and So­cial Cir­cle leave overnight stays to the dis­cre­tion of the city man­ager, while Por­terdale has a 50- mile limit but also gives the city man­ager dis­cre­tion. Those cities all have far fewer em­ploy­ees, and Knight did not ask for dis­cre­tion to be part of the pol­icy Mon­day night.

Dal­ton in par­tic­u­lar was con­cerned about in­creased food costs as a re­sult of more overnight stays be­ing granted and wanted to study the is­sue in more depth.

Knight said prior to that that meal pay­ments would likely be dealt with later.

Good­man said she did not be­lieve em­ploy­ees have abused the cur­rent pol­icy and felt they wouldn’t abuse the new pol­icy. Dal­ton said he was not ac­cus­ing em­ploy­ees of mis­us­ing the pol­icy.

One po­ten­tial cap on ex­penses al­ready ex­ists, Knight said, as de­part­ments have a set train­ing bud­get for the year, and man­agers ap­prove or deny non- manda­tory train­ing re­quests based on bud­gets.

Af­ter Mon­day’s vote to ta­ble the item, the coun­cil is ex­pected to dis­cuss the travel pol­icy in more depth at a later time; a date was not set Mon­day.

A small por­tion Wheat Street be­tween Hazel­brand Road and In­dus­trial Boule­vard will be re­built and widened to three lanes to ac­com­mo­date the com­mer­cial truck traf­fic gen­er­ated by sur­round­ing busi­nesses.

The Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to pay Blount Con­struc­tion $ 384,978 to re­build and widen the street; re­build­ing will con­sist of pul­ver­iz­ing the ex­ist­ing asphalt pave­ment and cre­at­ing a ce­ment- asphalt base with a sep­a­rate asphalt sur­face.

City of­fi­cials rec­om­mended go­ing with the three- lane im­prove­ment, be­cause it would be needed even­tu­ally and only cost $ 54,106 more than the low­est two- lane bid.

The three- lane so­lu­tion also came in un­der the pro­jected es­ti­mate of $ 435,693.

State money and lo­cal SPLOST money will be used.

The coun­cil also ap­proved pay­ing $ 25,781 to buy a bi- fuel, com­pressed nat­u­ral gas and gaso­line, truck from Cov­ing­ton Ford for the street depart­ment.

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