Grievance Hearing Held During City Council Meeting Focuses On Safety And Who Creates Policies

BROKEN BOW— During the Broken Bow City Council meeting on Tuesday, November 12, a hearing was held concerning a grievance filed by Electrical Superintendent Jeremy Tarr against Mayor Jonathon Berghorst. Tarr stated that he filed the grievance after receiving a written reprimand which he believed was undeserved and in retaliation.

This entire grievance stems from a safety concern brought up by the Mayor that there should be an experienced lineman with a younger lineman at all times. Currently, the policy is that when a lineman is ‘on call’ if they deem a situation is too much for one person to handle, they can call for help.

The Utility Board had voted unanimously to continue the policies that were already in line with the practices currently used by Tarr and the electrical crews. However, the Mayor believes these policies are not safe and should be changed.

During the grievance hearing, Tarr was given the first opportunity to speak about why the reprimand should be removed. Tarr began by stating that the Mayor asked him to change a policy that had not been voted on by the Broken Bow Utility Board as the issue had come about between Utility Board meetings.

He continued by stating that during multiple Utility Board meetings the Mayor and board were informed of their duties when it comes to policies which the Utility Board creates and the Mayor enforces.

This process was also confirmed by City Attorney Jason White during two Utility Board meetings, which the Mayor attended. According to Tarr, the Mayor continued to ignore the policies set by the Utility Board and instead instructed Tarr to change the policies to what the Mayor believed was correct.

Tarr also requested that the Mayor prove the four instances to what he was reprimanded for that included: insubordinate conduct, behavior of conduct, violation to follow laws and regulations, and neglect of job duties.

Tarr addressed each issue stating that the direction that was given to him from the Mayor was not lawful and thus he could not be reprimanded for the action. He also noted that his behavior and the policies that he is enforcing are in line with what the union, which their main concern is employee safety, has deemed as safe.

Tarr informed the council that had he followed the direction of the Mayor he would have been breaking the current city policy and then would have been neglecting his job duties.

After Tarr finished, Mayor Berghorst stepped to the podium and talked about a vote that the Utility Board had taken in March, where it was approved to have two linemen on call on the weekends for a probationary term, while the new lineman were on call.

The Mayor stated the he believed the inexperienced linemen were going to be on-call with one of the experienced lineman on every call. He then stated he learned that one of the inexperienced linemen went on a call by themselves, and not long after that situation, Tarr was reprimanded.

Mayor Berghorst stated that he did not ask Tarr to carry out an unlawful order, but instead asked him to carry an order for the safety of the city employees and to go above and beyond. He also stated that, “I’ve been in the business for over 10 years. I know what is right and what is wrong.”

Mayor Berghorst continued stating that no lineman in their first year should be on their own or someone is going to get killed and it will be the city’s fault and the Electrical Superintendents fault.

The Mayor continued to inform the council that it is his goal for everyone to be safe. He also said that following safety policies is more important than ignoring the safety problem, just because there may not be the funds for it. He also stated that he believed the grievance was a personnel-management issue and that he did not understand why the Board of Public Works is allowed to speak.

Berghorst also noted that while he respects everything the boards do, it was stated that he did not think it was appropriate for them to speak during the grievance, as they are only in charge of finances and projects.

The Mayor also covered the reasons for the reprimand stating that he gave Tarr a lawful order and it was not followed. He also stated that Tarr put the inexperienced lineman at risk as well as other employees before directly addressing Tarr and telling him that he has a job to keep the linemen safe and if anything were to happen to them, it would be on Tarr.

Travin Flynn briefly spoke on behalf of the Board of Public Works, stating that the vote that was taken concerning the second person on-call was a monetary decision that was brought forward by Tarr to see if it was financially possible. Flynn also noted that if there was a big safety issue there would have been more concerns brought forward between the trial period, and there was not.

Council members Chris Myers and Jacob Holcomb were the only two council members that elected to ask questions. After Myers asked questions regarding the timelines of the issues he stated that it is a fine line that everyone has to walk between safety and financial responsibility.

Holcomb stated that while he was happy with the Mayor’s concerns on safety and holding people accountable, he wondered if there was a double standard. Holcomb noted that while Tarr was given a written reprimand for safety, at approximately the same time two other departments had safety issues with workers not wearing proper clothing or hard hats and no reprimands were administered. The Mayor replied that he brought it to the supervisors’ attention and it was taken care of.

To conclude the hearing, Council President Rod Sonnichsen informed the public that there had been multiple occasions where he had tried to diffuse the situation before it was brought to the hearing.

The council voted unanimously to remove the written reprimand from Jeremy Tarr’s Personnel file.

To read about the rest of the Broken Bow City Council meeting, including the recall election date, click here.