Brainerd's employee policy manual is now more restrictive concerning the personal use of city facilities, vehicles and equipment by city employees.
In a special meeting Monday, the Brainerd City Council unanimously approved amending the employee policy manual to say city facilities, vehicles and equipment will be used only for city purposes and not for personal use by city employees unless the department head and city administrator determine it's for the public good and a report of the use is sent to the city council.
Previously, the policy allowed department heads to solely make the decision.
Issues regarding the use of city equipment were brought to the council's attention after Charlie Dunemann, International Association of Fire Fighters local union president, filed a grievance to determine if disciplining full-time firefighter Lance Davis was appropriate. Davis was disciplined after using a fire truck July 3 - while he was on duty - to fill what Dunemann described as a kids' swimming pool.
The grievance letter brought up a bigger problem about use of city vehicles, facilities and equipment, City Administrator Dan Vogt said, though the issue, he noted, was mainly only a problem in the fire department.
To that end, the council also unanimously discontinued several perks enjoyed by full-time fire department employees, including use of the department's commercial washing machine for personal items, parking vehicles inside the fire hall year round, changing oil in personal vehicles in the fire hall and washing their vehicles in the fire hall.
In making the motion to amend the employee policy manual, council member Kelly Bevans said there may be some instances, such as filling a dunk tank for a charitable organization or escorting high school sports teams, that are outside the fire department's daily routine but still serve a public service.
"If it's not for the public good it's got to stop," Bevans said.
"Unfortunately what we've got here is a situation some individuals have taken advantage of, taken advantage of the system for so long. It's best now to start with a complete elimination of perks, for now."
The council also spent time Monday debating specific instances that may serve the public good and made a motion to allow the filling of dunk tanks for charitable organizations, using fire trucks to escort school sports teams and having a presence at other community events such as the cancer walk.
Fire Chief Fred Underhill said other instances in which the fire department provides services to groups include driving Santa Claus downtown, allowing a chili cook-off in the fire hall and using the ladder truck to drop coupons for downtown's crazy days, helping businesses or organizations straighten out twisted flags and changing light bulbs at ball fields.
"Those are things I call community service," Underhill said. "If you wish to change that, I have to know."
The motion naming the few specific items was withdrawn after some council members argued that the initial motion amending the policy gave clear direction.
"If it's one of those grayer areas, then the department head has the opportunity to go to the city administrator," council member Bonnie Cumberland said.
As to the perks enjoyed by the full-time firefighters, council member Bob Olson said the council shouldn't be picking and choosing benefits in which no other department in the city has access.
"I'd like to see us deny all of those perks," Olson said.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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