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City hears grievance from former police officer over equipment reimbursement

The city of Park Rapids grievance panel met Tuesday to discuss whether to reimburse former Park Rapids police officer Dan May for a uniform purchase in January.

Each officer has a $375 uniform allowance for the year. According to the labor agreement, "the Employer shall provide each employee with a uniform allowance for those items not provided by the Employer (leather, weapons, shoes) and for the maintenance of uniforms."

May ordered a flashlight and pressure switch Jan. 16 that is used for the tactical team. He requested a reimbursement of $339.95.

May recently accepted a position with the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department shortly after the purchase and submitted his resignation with the city Feb. 3.

The council stated the request seemed unreasonable and denied the reimbursement request at its Feb. 8 meeting.

May filed a grievance with the city on Feb. 11, 2011.

"The flashlight is used for the tactical team," May said. "I'm still on there, I'm still using it. We get called in the city of Park Rapids, it's going to be used."

Joanne Derby, representing May with Teamsters local union 320, said the union was "very confused" that he didn't receive the reimbursement that was part of the labor agreement.

City administrator Bill Smith wrote a letter to Derby stating one of the reasons from the council for the refusal was because "underlying premise of the annual allowance is that the officer will be a police officer employee of the city for the year in which the allowance is provided."

Derby said the union was not aware of any such premise.

The past practice of the council was to reimburse officers under the labor agreement for uniform and equipment purchases.

May received approval from Police Chief Terry Eilers before ordering the equipment. Eilers said it is common for officers to purchase the equipment and subsequently ask for reimbursement.

The city council has final approval for purchases.

"I do have a problem when the city comes and says, 'we are not going to approve what we negotiated with you in good faith, we are now not going to approve that,'" Derby said.

Mayor Nancy Carroll said she thought the timing of the purchase and resignation was notable.

The purchase was made Jan. 16. The sheriff's department took applications for the deputy position from Jan. 6-21. May was interviewed for the position Jan. 28 and offered the job Feb. 2.

However, he did not submit his resignation to the city until after the Hubbard County Board approved the pay. He would not have left the city if he wasn't making as much as he was as a police officer, he said.

"He did not know he was leaving the city when he made the purchase," Derby said.

"It seems to me that if you're going to talk about what is a good faith effort here and you know that you're applying for a job someplace else, it just doesn't seem reasonable to me," Carroll said.

Smith added that a Park Rapids Enterprise editorial supported the logic behind the city council's decision.

Park Rapids resident Dick Rutherford attended the meeting and said he supported the city's decision to deny the reimbursement because of the timing of the resignation.

"If there's any serious consideration of leaving the police force, then perhaps that purchase should have been delayed a little bit," Smith said. "I don't think the council's decision is unreasonable. It seems to be supported by the community, as evidenced by a taxpayer here today and the editorial."

In response, Derby said, "I do not let the editorial nor the community, nor co-workers determine whether a grievance moves forward or not. That is between the grievant and the union. The executive board makes the decision whether a grievance moves forward or not."

The union looks at the contract language and the past practice, she said.

The city is required to respond in writing to the union within 10 days. The panel recessed the meeting and decided to meet again at noon Friday. No decision was made before the Enterprise went to press.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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