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‘At will’ clause raises questions at Palmer council

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Mark Varsel
Ellis County Press
PALMER - October's meeting of Palmer City Council started out amicably enough, but soon brought old tensions to the surface.

The point of contention was the agenda item to discuss a proposal to add an 'at will' clause to the existing Palmer Personnel Policy Manual.

From the outset Mayor Lance Anglin made it clear he was in favor of adding the clause to the policy.

At issue is the ability of the city to terminate employees at will.

The clause states employees have the right to terminate their employment with the city at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all.

Likewise, the city retains the right to terminate employment at any time without the need to identify a reason for termination.

What's at stake is the elimination of any perception that a contract exists between an employee and the city that would insure a right to future employment.

The clause makes it clear there is no obligation between parties to guarantee a continued employee/employer relationship.

Councilman Jeff Vick objected saying, 'I don't like it, there's too much scrutiny already.'

Many citizens felt the same way. Expressing that they felt the city was creating an inhospitable environment for existing employees, as well as potential future employees.

Police Chief Scott Lynch tried to persuade council explaining that the existing city policy required 'just cause' to terminate an employee.

The existing policy does grant employees the right to appeal termination actions.

Lynch explained adding the 'at will' clause would eliminate any possible recourse an employee might have in the case of an unjust termination.

The debate raged on for some time, with Mayor Anglin abruptly bringing the discussion to a close and putting the matter to council for a decision.

After a motion, and a second for passage, the vote ended in a tie. Councilman Mike Greenlee and Councilwoman Dianne Drewery voted to add the 'at will' clause.

Councilman Jeff Vick and Councilwoman Joice Price voted in opposition to the motion.

In the absence of the fifth member of council, Kenneth Bateman, the vote was decided by Mayor Anglin. Anglin broke the tie, voting in favor of the motion. Commenting from the bench, Councilman Jeff Vick stated 'I saw this coming when Councilman Bateman didn't show up'.

Further adding to existing tensions was another item put on the agenda by Councilman Vick. He explained to Council that he wanted to know the status of a previous agenda item authorizing the Mayor to initiate an investigation of the City of Palmer by the Texas Rangers.

Mayor Anglin responded that he had indeed met with Ellis County District Attorney Joe Gibbs. Anglin explained that he was seeking guidance on how to go about it (investigating) if we (the city) think something is stolen. Anglin said Gibbs explained that theft is a very difficult thing to prove.

At that point Anglin turned sullen and said, 'It has not ended. At this time there is more work to be done'. To which Councilman Vick responded sarcastically, 'Did we not find what we wanted, so we can get rid of the ones were chasing?' Anglin sharply responded, 'Absolutely not!'

Anglin encouraged Vick to discuss the matter further, saying, 'Your concerns run pretty deep.' Vick ended the discourse with a simple, 'We're done.'

Other agenda items that engaged lively discussion included a discussion about what to do with the city's growing population of free-roaming cats. Council authorized Anglin to engage in negotiations with the Ellis County SPCA with the intent to establish a favorable contract with the animal rescue organization. This would potentially allow the city to aggressively enforce its leash law and increase the number of nuisance animals it can process.

Another agenda item was an open discussion regarding directives to the Police Department. Some Council members took issue with the aggressive way in which the department has enforced speeding laws. Others were steadfast in their belief that the Police department should continue to show no leniency in their enforcement of driving violations in and around school zones. There was extensive debate on the issue of 'hiding', whether it was in the shadows or on freeway overpasses.

The discussion was initiated by Police Chief Scott Lynch in order to have his department act in accordance with the wishes of city leaders. Councilman Greenlee was concerned about the city's reputation. He related a conversation that had occurred earlier when a shopkeeper in Palestine spontaneously acknowledged the reputation that Palmer has developed as a speed trap, without knowing that Greenlee was a member of city government.

In the end, Mayor Anglin was more concerned about the way that Palmer Police officers represented the city. He mused about observing officers earlier in the week. Relating his observation that a simple greeting such as, 'Hi, how're doing?' can put a smile on your face. 'I like it', he said. Under the advice of the Mayor, citizens can look for officers to be more congenial in the future.

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