Grievance filed over Perkins gag order

PERKINS TWP. Perkins Township's policy on public comments by employees -- dubbed a "gag order&q
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

PERKINS TWP.

Perkins Township's policy on public comments by employees -- dubbed a "gag order" by the township's critics -- is going back to the drawing board.

Trustees asked the township's attorney, John Coppeler, to draw up a new policy to clarify the policy isn't meant to hamper the police in their day-to-day duties, such as answering questions from reporters about crimes, trustee Bill Dwelle said.

The policy never prevented police from doing their normal duties, Dwelle said, and the police have been told that.

"It's people playing games," he said. "People are trying to make a big issue out of that."

The "Spokesperson Policy," adopted a few weeks ago, states that "no employee of Perkins Township is authorized to provide any public comment on official Township policies and operations or other issues which may affect Perkins Township" without prior authorization. Failure to comply with the policy will be considered insubordination and trigger disciplinary measures, the policy says.

The union representing officers in the Perkins Police Department has filed a grievance claiming the township violated their contract when it revised police policies, including the spokesperson policy.

Union representative Dennis Sterling said the spokesperson policy hampers police officers from doing their jobs because they can't communicate information to the public when they need to.

"From time to time there are news releases that need to be put out pertaining to specific incidents," he said.

Dwelle said it's "absolutely untrue" to say police are prevented from giving out information.

"All three trustees have said things that have to do with day-to-day operation of the police department, that's not what we're talking about," Dwelle said

Coppeler said that's the correct interpretation of the document, as it deals with comments on official township policies.

"It did not in any way preclude employees from comments or discussions of their day-to-day routine, normal business activities," he said.

In any event, Coppeler said he's produced a draft of the new policy clarifying the township's rules for public comment and said it will be presented soon to the trustees.

The grievance, filed Feb. 15 by Sgt. Jeff Musser of the Perkins police, says four policies the union received Feb. 7 violate the union's collective bargaining agreement. The policies are the spokesperson policy, the public records policy, a policy on direct deposit of paychecks and a time sheet policy.

The collective bargaining agreement says the township must provide 15 days notice before a new policy goes into effect.

The township followed the policy with the direct deposit and time sheet changes, giving the union a dated document with Perkins Township letterhead and the names of the trustees, but did not provide a properly dated document with a township letterhead for the other two policies, Sterling said. All four policies are listed because the union wants the township to be consistent, he said.

Sterling said township trustees violated procedures, but he's confident the issues will be resolved.

Coppeler said he agrees the matter will be resolved but said the new policies were adopted by trustees in an open meeting attended by members of the police department.

"I don't know why they wouldn't know when they were adopted," he said.