City council committee pores over coffee rules, grounds its work on city employee manual

At last week’s meeting of the Bloomington city council’s rules committee, Isabel Piedmont-Smith said at one point to her colleagues, “A cup of coffee? Come on, I don’t care!”

Cropped Coffee IMG_2944
Not a topic of discussion by the Bloomington city council’s rules committee was the question of fancy thumb rests on coffee mugs. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The specific question of whether councilmembers should allow someone to buy them a cup of coffee was not on the committee’s agenda.

But the issue arose as they were sorting through the contents of the city’s employee manual.

Chair of the committee, Steve Volan, said the manual requires city employees to report any gratuities, courtesies and prizes, like meals and beverages to the city’s ethics officer—if they receive such items during the course of normal working hours.

For the committee, Volan said, that meant a decision about whether councilmembers should report their receipt of courtesies, like cups of coffee. And if councilmembers are supposed to report the courtesies, to whom should they be reported?

Why does the city’s employee manual even bear on the question of councilmember behavior? It’s because the committee’s approach to creating a manual for councilmembers is to draft a short document that incorporates, by reference only, the city’s employee manual, but specifies additions and exceptions to the city’s manual.

The committee’s tentative decision last week was to specify a threshold of $10 for reporting courtesies and to have that report go to their attorney/administrator.

The position of the council’s attorney/administrator has been held by Dan Sherman for three decades. Sherman’s retirement sometime towards mid-year in 2020 is one reason the rules committee is keen to record his institutional knowledge by getting as many policies and procedures reduced to writing as they can. That includes creating a manual for councilmembers.

Another motivation for a councilmember manual is the addition next year of four new faces to the nine-member council. Two of them are already decided—Matt Flaherty, who’ll fill Andy Ruff’s position as an at-large representative, and Kate Rosenbarger, who’ll take over for District 1 representative Chris Sturbaum. The two who’ll replace Allison Chopra and Dorothy Granger, in Districts 3 and 2, respectively, will be determined in the Nov. 5 election.

Acceptance of gratuities is one of several topics to be sorted through in the employee manual.

Other topics, besides the employee manual, that the rules committee is looking to tackle through the fall include: policies for the council’s support personnel (Sherman, his deputy and a researcher); meeting procedures, including time limits and floor motions; and a clean-up of city code on boards and commissions.

Last week’s meeting was the fourth scheduled one for the committee since early August. The committee’s next meeting is set for Sept. 26 at 10 a.m. Sherman said it’s possible that his new deputy might be on board by then. The new hire  will fill the position that Stacy Jane Rhoads left when she recently resigned.

[.mp3 of meeting]