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Posted: January 7, 2014 9:59 p.m.

City mulls redoing its travel policy

Covington officials are considering revising the city’s employee travel policy, to give more flexibility for overnight stays for training classes and conferences, but council members disagreed on whether the change was needed now or should be studied further.

The council voted 4-3, with Mayor Ronnie Johnston casting the tie-breaking vote, to table a decision on the travel policy, which would have allowed city employees to ask for overnight lodging if a conference or class was multiple days and was 35 miles or farther away from Covington City Hall.

The previous policy had only allowed overnight lodging to be granted if a class was more than 50 miles away from City Hall. Both the current policy and new policy also would grant overnight accommodations in cases where a single-day class is 50 miles or more away from City Hall. City Hall is used as the measuring point, because employees can live all over the county or even in a different county, which would increase time and effort to process paperwork.

Councilwomen Janet Goodman, Ocie Franklin and Hawnethia Williams opposed tabling the topic as they were prepared to vote in favor of it, while Councilmen Keith Dalton, Chris Smith and Mike Whatley and Mayor Johnston felt the topic needed more discussion.

City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said she was asked to bring the topic before the council. When asked, she said the current policy does not prevent employees from getting the training they need, but she also said the revised policy was viewed as a better alternative than potentially having employees on the road late at night.

Councilman Smith said the city of Madison’s policy only pays for overnight stays if a class is 60 miles away. Knight said Oxford and Social Circle leave overnight stays to the discretion of the city manager, while Porterdale has a 50-mile limit but also gives the city manager discretion. Those cities all have far fewer employees, and Knight did not ask for discretion to be part of the policy Monday night.

Dalton in particular was concerned about increased food costs as a result of more overnight stays being granted and wanted to study the issue in more depth.

Knight said prior to that that meal payments would likely be dealt with later.

Goodman said she did not believe employees have abused the current policy and felt they wouldn’t abuse the new policy. Dalton said he was not accusing employees of misusing the policy.

One potential cap on expenses already exists, Knight said, as departments have a set training budget for the year, and managers approve or deny non-mandatory training requests based on budgets.

After Monday’s vote to table the item, the council is expected to discuss the travel policy in more depth at a later time; a date was not set Monday.

 Wheat St. to be rebuilt

A small portion Wheat Street between Hazelbrand Road and Industrial Boulevard will be rebuilt and widened to three lanes to accommodate the commercial truck traffic generated by surrounding businesses.

The Covington City Council voted unanimously to pay Blount Construction $384,978 to rebuild and widen the street; rebuilding will consist of pulverizing the existing asphalt pavement and creating a cement-asphalt base with a separate asphalt surface.

City officials recommended going with the three-lane improvement, because it would be needed eventually and only cost $54,106 more than the lowest two-lane bid.

The three-lane solution also came in under the projected estimate of $435,693.

State money and local SPLOST money will be used.

CNG truck purchased

The council also approved paying $25,781 to buy a bi-fuel, compressed natural gas and gasoline, truck from Covington Ford for the street department.

 

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