Final vote on Elkhart city contracts delayed

Approval of union contracts for Elkhart fire and police were delayed after some city council members said they received information too late.
Posted on Dec. 16, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Attempts to gain the Elkhart City Council’s approval for new union contracts for police and fire ended in some heated exchanges during and after Monday night’s council meeting.

Council tabled discussion of both contracts, with some council members claiming they received details about changes in the contracts shortly before Monday’s meeting, Dec. 16.

Despite the bickering though, council members afterward agreed to meet at 5 p.m. Thursday to possibly approve the contracts.

Human resources director Vicci Moore said she forward copies of old and new contracts last week that contained highlights of the changes.

But several Republicans along with council president Ron Troyer, a Democrat, said copies they received didn’t include highlighted changes.

Moore said later via an email that highlighted changes marked in red may not have showed up when printed for council members.

New copies with the highlighted changes were provided shortly before Monday’s meeting, but Troyer said that wasn’t enough time.

Fire Chief Michial Compton said he was disappointed the council cut off any chance of debate by immediately seeking to table the topics.

Compton and police chief Dale Pflibsen both urged the council to move quickly on the issue before the end of the year because changes — including holiday pay — would lead to confusion beginning as early as New Year’s Day.

The board of public safety approved the two-year contracts earlier Monday.

Henke said he spent 90 minutes with a police administrator on Monday afternoon reviewing the old and new contracts.

“Frankly, we’re saying ‘Don’t throw the hot potato in our lap on the eleventh hour and expect us to jump through hoops,’” Henke said. “There’s no reason why this contract wasn’t dealt with a month ago.”

Troyer said he was “caught totally blind.”

The council also had a protracted argument later in the meeting over Troyer’s decision to cancel the council’s first meeting of the new year scheduled for Jan. 6.

Troyer sought to cancel the meeting because he said he knew four council members would be unable to attend.

Democrat councilman Brent Curry objected and asked that Troyer identify those council members who said they could not attend. Troyer declined.

Curry then sought to override Troyer’s decision with an appeal vote, which failed 5-3. Troyer joined Henke and other Republicans, Mary Olson, Brian Thomas and Brian Dickerson in blocking the appeal.

The canceling of that meeting put in further doubt — for a few minutes — when the council would meet to resolve the union contracts.

Councilwoman Tonda Hines began to speak after the vote, but Troyer quickly cut off discussion.

“You pick and choose when you want to cut somebody off,” Hines charged.

Adding a sense of mystery, Hines added: “Come the first council meeting in January, it will come out why this meeting was postponed.”

Afterward, Dickerson and Arvis Dawson, the mayor’s assistant, had a lengthy face-to-face discussion as Dawson urged the councilman to call the mayor’s office when he needs information. Dickerson said he prefers to contact department heads directly.

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