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City of Batesville may change drug policy

Failed marijuana screens would be given second chance

By Jeremy Weldon

Employees of the City of Batesville may soon have access to counselors around the clock through a program that will also allow them to keep their jobs if they fail a random drug screen for marijuana, and possibly other illegal substances.

Aldermen on Tuesday heard a presentation from Melissa Donahue, director of Concern, an employee assistance program administered by Baptist Memorial Health Care.

Donahue told aldermen her company has contracts with many businesses in the Mid South and several municipalities, including the City of Oxford. The service will cost the city $2 per employee a month and will cover all persons living in each employee’s household.

She touted the many professional counseling benefits of the program, but aldermen were most interested in her assessment of how the city should handle first-time offenders of the strict drug policy currently in place.

That policy leaves supervisors no options when employees fail random drug screens, something that happens regularly with City of Batesville employees.

Public Works Director David Karr also addressed the issue with aldermen, saying he didn’t “like it one bit” but the reality of a quickly-changing public perception of casual marijuana use has begun to affect the city’s ability to retain workers, some who have hours of training and multiple public works certifications.

“We’ve had to fire six guys I can think of and we had a random drug screen this morning, so I probably have a couple more now,” Karr said. “Like it or not, the country is changing and what was beer was to our generation, marijuana is to this age group. I don’t think we should condone it one bit, but we really do need to look at a policy that would give a person a second chance.”

Karr said he believes that some employees who have lost their jobs in the past were valuable members of their departments, and the city’s ability to provide the best service possible to citizens suffered when there were terminated.

“These people that would do well from this kind of program are the very ones that we need to keep working for the City of Batesville. Some of them have made a slip up and they shouldn’t have to pay for it with their job, especially when there are so many second chance programs out there now relating to marijuana use,” Karr said.

Aldermen were in agreement, but wanted assurances that employees who were part of a failed drug test were actually required to complete counseling sessions and that second chances would not turn into third and fourth failures.

Karr also reminded council members that most larger businesses and many cities offer general counseling programs for their employees, and the change in drug policy would be just a part of the overall service.

“With as many people as the city has on payroll working every day, I’m sure there are some people that have things going on that counseling sessions would make a difference for,” Karr said. “We have some people with anger management issues, every city and business does. This gives them a chance to talk with professionals and who knows what might be avoided sometime in the future.”

Alderman Teddy Morrow questioned Donahue about privacy issues, noting that employees’ private health matters, even if mental, are covered by existing regulations. Donahue said her company reports all contact made by employees to City Hall, but the reports are numbered and employees’ names are kept private.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Karr said. “If the city gets this program it’s a way to help our employees with their problems and a way to keep our good people working. We to have to accept that in the near future the federal government is going to change its laws on marijuana and we know that’s coming.”

After the meeting Karr said he doesn’t recall any city employee testing for harder drugs than marijuana. Even if the employee assistance program under consideration is adopted, Karr said any drug screen failures other than marijuana will probably be viewed differently by department supervisors and aldermen.

Attorney Colmon Mitchell will review the proposed contract and the obligations the city will undertake if the officials decide to partner with Concern, and report his findings to the board at its next meeting.