HAMMOND — Mayor Mayson Foster told the City Council on Tuesday that he has submitted a proposal for review by the city’s fire and police unions, council members and department heads that could lead to revamping rules and procedures for giving city employees time off during natural disaster situations.
Foster’s announcement came in response to questions from Councilman Lemar Marshall about why city employees were required to come to work during the approach and eventual arrival of Hurricane Isaac, which made landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 28.
Foster and Marshall engaged in a frequently contentious debate over why city employees were not given off Aug. 29, when the brunt of Isaac, downgraded to a tropical storm at that point, passed through southeast Louisiana.
Marshall contended that city workers should have been given the day off with pay and not be required to use vacation time if they chose not to report to their city jobs. He said employees who had to use their vacation time will not have that time back when they might want to take their families on vacation.
The mayor said it was his responsibility to make the decision on whether or not to declare Aug. 29 a disaster day in the city and to “close City Hall.”
The mayor said at one point that all city employees were given a choice to come to work or not.
“I trust that our employees are smart enough to make that decision. There are other times when they have to decide if they want to take a vacation day or not. No one forces our employees to come to work if they have other priorities,” the mayor said.
“It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback and criticize what was done, but closing down City Hall is no easy task and has many ramifications,” Foster said. “I made the best decision I could and I want to emphasize that at no time did I put fiscal issues before the safety of our employees. Their safety was always my greatest concern.”
One of Marshall’s complaints was that the mayor did not give employees the day off because of money considerations. Giving the workers the free time would have eventually cost the city additional money in salary and compensation.
After the lengthy exchange, Councilman Jason Ard declared, “What we have seen here is a public flogging of the mayor, who did what I think was a great job during the storm. Frankly, I am embarrassed by what I have heard here tonight.”
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