Greensburg city council gets mired in COVID-related expense discussion at regular meeting

Edward J. Naughton
Kiowa County Signal
As a Greensburg City Councilman wonders about quarantine mantdates and city employee payments for time off, testing continues around the state, country and world in reponse to the continued COVID-19 pandemic.

City of Greensburg Council President Mark Trummel may have opened Pandora's box during the September 7 city council meeting when he brought up the issue of city employees possible miss-use of COVID-related time-off parameters.

In the year 2020, the city received into budget the COVID-relief package monies from the feds that all counties and cities and municipalities in the United States got, essentially to help offset the impact of budgetary shortfalls that came naturally as a consequence of dealing with the pandemic.

Trummel said he considered what he deemed were unfair practices essentially in nature as he has many questions and concerns about quarantine policies for city employees, even suggesting that some people get exposed to COVID from people they associate with during their free time and so this is obviously not work-related, so why do they still manage to get paid for 14 days self-imposed quarantine situation at home? 

"I don't care where the money is coming from. We are paying these people to stay at home in quarantine, yet they get to keep their sick time accumulated," Trummel said.

The what-are and what-if scenarios flew back and forth across the room between Stacy Barnes, City Administrator and Trummel, and other council members as Barnes re-asserted those present that what the city is doing now is basically routine in just paying these quarantined people regular pay in an administrative leave category, who might not even really be sick anyways, but just exposed to someone with a positive COVID-test.

This big picture indicates that is basically unfair to those not suffering from COVID-related infections, but to other types of injuries or illnesses as well. 

"The federal law known as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandated that we had to pay the two weeks - that expired at the end of last year," Barnes said.

Barnes kept trying to calmly reassure Trummel that there should not be too much concern because quarantined city employees are paid out of the regular budget anyway.

Trummel said the issue should be reviewed in more detail, one reason being why should regular pay they receive under the category of administrative leave from the city budget is being expended when there is a good possibility they probably got exposed while off-work anyway?

The debate involves COVID-related benefits of those city employees quarantined at home due to possible exposure to COVID and getting paid for it as regular pay. 

"I think part of it is that it is not necessarily their choice, you have to quarantine - not come to work because it is mandated that they have to quarantine," he said.

More discussion ensued including the question of who would know if someone actually got exposed while off the clock, versus a work-environment related exposure?

On the flip side, the non-COVID related illnesses or surgeries, specifically those employees who might be sick or rehabilitating at home but having nothing related to COVID to contend with - those people do have to diminish their sick bank resources or vacation time even when they rehabilitate or recover at home, or else they get nothing at all.

City Council member Haley Kern said, "I see what you are saying Mark, but here is what I see - because of COVID and it's the pandemic and the contagiousness of it all, what if somebody comes to work and they are driving around checking streets and they get it from their co-worker? This COVID thing is so unpredictable."

Trummel said, "Say they were exposed on the job, I might look at it differently, but if they are exposed in their off time, then why can't they use their sick time they have accumulated? Yet we are going to go ahead and pay them out of this recovery fund and they keep the money. But the next guy comes along and is sick at home with a different illness and he does not get the regular pay - unlike the quarantined people that do get it because they have possible COVID exposure."

The city employees who actually might not really be sick at all, just apparently exposed to someone with a positive COVID test, they face necessary quarantine, but to Trummel's dismay they receive the benefit of having no sick time or vacation time deducted from their bank while receiving their regular pay under the guise of administrative leave for that 14 day quarantine period at home - the same budgeted regular pay they would receive on the job as if they were actually on the job and still working for that 14 days.

Mayor Matt Christenson attempted to put the matter to bed by saying that the city needs to develop a written policy to deal with this problem rather than just doing everything generally on a case-by-case basis.