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New city employee sick leave policy draws ire over COVID-19 vaccinations

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City of Jackson employees were recently notified that beginning July 1, if they become ill with COVID-19, and they are vaccinated, their time off will be covered by the City and they will not have to use their accumulated sick days. If they are not vaccinated, they will have to use their personal sick days, vacation time or take time off without pay. This was meant as an incentive to encourage employees to get vaccinated, City Administrator Jim Roach told the Board of Aldermen June 21.

The previous week, eight JPD officers became ill with COVID-19. Most were vaccinated, but some were not.

Leslie Hanna, wife of JPD Corporal Jacob Hanna, came before the Mayor and Board of Aldermen to express her concerns with the policy. She said non-vaccinated employees will be forced to use their sick days to cover their quarantine period.

“If they chose to not get an experimental non FDA-approved vaccine, they would be forced to use their accumulated sick time, which is about 120 hours, I believe,” she said.

“The quarantine time for COVID can be 10 to 14 days,” she reminded the Board. Sick time from CO-VID-19 can be much longer if one ends up in the hospital.

“Let’s just say someone has had COVID and they have used all their sick days. What happens if they get it again? What happens if their child gets it from school?

“What I don’t understand is where the City finds it acceptable to make people choose between their bills being paid and their rights to make their own individual life-changing medical choices. The City is genuinely saying, if you get the vaccine, your time off will be paid. If not, you’re on your own. And to me, that just isn’t acceptable. What we’re not going to do is discriminate against someone’s medical choices.

“I understand another email was sent that same day stating the policy is simply changing back to the old policy, but that isn’t true. If it was, being vaccinated or not being vaccinated would have absolutely nothing to do with it.

“If any of these men and women unfortunately become COVID positive and have to be home for quarantine, their time off should be paid. Point blank. Period. Vaccinated or not.

“At the end of the day, the City doesn’t have a right to dictate people’s medical choices or to discriminate against those decisions. Nor do you have the right to incentivize getting a non FDA-approved experimental vaccine when you hold none of the risks that come with it.”

Hanna said the City received more than $697,000 in COVID relief funding in 2020. More money will be available to the City in the next few months through the American Rescue Plan.

“There is absolutely no reason any Jackson city employee shouldn’t receive their paid sick time off regardless of whether they get a vaccine or not,” she said.

Roach explained that the Department of Labor last year required the City and all employers to cover sick leave for all employees who became sick with COVID-19. That requirement ended Dec. 31.

“You’re literally telling these people either choose to put experimental drugs into your body or you are screwed,” said Hanna. “Do you know what two weeks of no pay does for someone? Or do you not care?”

Hanna claimed if the City cared for its employees, it would find the funding to pay for their sick leave.

Roach stated that he does care about city employees, and Aldermen Joe Bob Baker and Tommy Kimbel said they resented the accusation that the City doesn’t support its employees. “We do support our people,” Baker said. Kimbel, a retired city police officer, stated, “They took care of me.”

Hanna’s comments were made during the non-agenda citizen input portion of the meeting and did not require action by the aldermen.

“You’ve made your point,” concluded Mayor Dwain Hahs. “The Board of Aldermen can discuss this going forward.”

“I think this lady’s got a point,” said Alderman David Hitt. “Why are we doing this? I understand from what she said, and what I think Jim said, it’s to encourage the inoculation of all employees.”

“Yeah, that and to transition back to our normal sick leave policy,” replied Roach.

City Attorney Tom Ludwig suggested that the Board of Aldermen discuss the policy at its next study session July 7. The Board can at that time recommend changes in the policy if it feels a need to do so.

“I’m not real fond of this policy,” Hitt said.

In other action

• Destruction of records: The Board approved recording in its minutes that certain City records had met their retention life and were destroyed in compliance with state statutes.

• Limited use of public right-of-way: The Board granted the limited use of a portion of North Russell Street public right-of-way by the owners of the property at 224 W. Main St. Lenco intends to install an electrical connection box on the side of its building to provide electricity following an explosion and fire. That box will extend into the public right-of-way over the sidewalk, as the building comes right to the property line. The electrical connection cannot be put on the north side of the building, where there is more room, because the north wall will be torn down.

• Oktoberfest: During study session, UJRO Executive Director Janna Clifton discussed plans for Oktoberfest, which will be held Oct. 1-2 in Uptown Jackson.

There will also be a Missouri bicentennial ice cream social in August.

• Harmony Lane: During study session, City Attorney Tom Ludwig said he met with County Commissioner Paul Koeper to discuss Harmony Lane, which is part in the city and part in the county.

The County wants to fix up its portion of the road and donate it to the City, so it will no longer have to maintain parts of it. However, city and county roads are built to different standards.

The County plans to do some core drilling on the road to determine what condition the road is in, and then will meet again with the City.

The Aldermen also have to decide if they are willing to go through the process of condemnation to acquire the county portion of the road if property owners are not willing sellers.

“It’s highly probably that we will have some condemnation,” said Alderman Larry Cunningham. He said the Aldermen should take a “straw vote” at the next meeting. If the Board of Aldermen is unwilling to using condemnation, then there is no need to go any further in negotiations with the County, he said.

“You know how I feel,” said Baker, who expressed opposition to using condemnation at the previous meeting. However, Baker admitted he is just one vote.

• Park improvements: Parks Director Shane Anderson said the new ball field at Brookside Park is “coming along at a good pace.” He also said the pickeball courts in Litz Park are being improved and will have eight courts when completed. Plans are underway to construct a dog park near the Civic Center.

Anderson said the Parks and Recreation Department will hire a full-time recreation supervisor as a new position. When that person is hired, he or she will run the city’s softball, soccer and football recreational leagues.

• Swimming pool regulations: According to city ordinances, the Board of Aldermen set swimming pool regulations. An amendment to the ordinances is being proposed to make the Park Board responsible instead of the Board of Aldermen.

• Low water bridge: Public Works Director Kent Peetz reported that he expected to receive preliminary plans by the end of the week for a new bridge over Hubble Creek to replace the low-water bridge at Hubble ford. The project will go out to bid by the end of July.

• Wastewater facility: Peetz informed the Board that Horner and Shifrin is requesting additional funds to design improvements for the wastewater treatment facility. There are additional items that need to be addressed, Peetz said.

• Water project delay: Jokerst, Inc. is requesting more time to complete its water project affecting well houses, because of delays in the arrival of equipment. The delays will cost the company (and save the City) $500 a day, or more than $50,000. Some equipment on order has a six-week lead time, some an eight-week lead time, and some a 13-week lead time.

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at cashbook@mvp.net.

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