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Ashwaubenon to review repayment agreements for new officers

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

ASHWAUBENON – The village’s Finance and Personnel Committee wants to find out what other communities do before deciding whether to recommend new public safety officers sign pre-employment contracts to reimburse the village for expenses related to hiring them should they leave early.

At its meeting last month, the committee discussed the possibility of implementing three- and five-year repayment agreements for new officers.

Public Safety Chief Brian Uhl said he recommended the agreements for the village to recoup some of the costs involved in training and hiring new officers, if they decide they want to leave or their employment is terminated within three or five years.

“What brought about this was we had a recent employee, who we sent through the law enforcement academy, had started his FTO (field training officer) program – I don’t even know he was halfway through the FTO program – and decided that this law enforcement part of our duties was not for him, and he resigned immediately,” he said. “He didn’t even give us a two-week notice.”

Since 2017, Uhl said four employees left early, two were terminated and two resigned.

“One of our challenges with our department is, with doing all three disciplines, is we have to send people to two trainings most of the time,” he said. “One is a law enforcement academy, if they don’t already have that certification, and the other one is the firefighting and EMS (emergency medical service),” he said.

Uhl said firefighting involves six months of training, which is expensive.

“If it is possible for us to hire someone that has all the training, we would love to have that,” he said. “But that’s very rare, however. We have had it at least once since I’ve been here, which is a year.”

Uhl said the difference between the proposed pre-employment agreements is the one for three years is for someone the village doesn’t have to put through an academy or training, while the five-year agreement is for employees who require training.

“This is not governed by the union,” he said. “This is a pre-employment contract, so they don’t have any say in that regard.”

As drafted, the pre-employment agreements would limit the reimbursable amount to $8,000 for three years and $9,900 for five years with the percentage reimbursed decreasing until the three- or five-year period of employment is completed with no reimbursement required for officers leaving after that time.

Uhl said the dollar amounts that would be reimbursed “are only a fraction of what we actually expend on them, depending on when they leave or are terminated, just in salary alone.”

“I thought this might be a viable option for the village for these limited circumstances where we end employment before three and five years, whether it’s on their own or perhaps they aren’t making it as an officer,” he said.

Committee member Allyson Brunette said she struggled with the idea of implementing pre-employment agreements.

“I really feel that this is a stick rather than a carrot, and I think it’s a little bit, frankly, out of touch with what younger people are expecting in workplaces,” she said. “I would never sign a five-year contract like this. Now, granted, I’m in a very different field, but I just think that people’s career tracks are so mobile nowadays, and that’s just a reality that is a cost of doing business for every single human resource department and organization, government or not.”

Brunette said she wouldn’t want people working in Ashwaubenon’s public safety department longer than they want to, “if they’re not invested in that role,” to avoid repaying the village.

“I just think that that is going to lend itself to a really unhealthy departmental dynamic, where you have people that can do the job, don’t really want to do the job and now have a vested financial interest to stay in a job that they are not wanting to be in,” she said.

Uhl said he doesn’t know what else the village could have done to provide information on what the job was about to an employee who recently left.

“He saw all of that during his ride-alongs, his time, his application, all that stuff, and in the academy – granted the scenarios in the academy aren’t exactly like real life, but they’re somewhat simulated to that,” he said.

Uhl said the village gets reimbursed for the actual costs of sending someone to a law enforcement academy, but not for the salary paid to someone who goes there.

“Unless they’re sending themselves through the academy, they don’t have to pay for it,” he said. “We pay for the academy, and some do send themselves through.”

Uhl said he presented the pre-employment contacts as an option for the village to be reimbursed, if new public safety officers decide working for the village isn’t for them.

Village Manager Joel Gregozeski suggested possibly looking at having an incentive for new officers to stay, versus punishing the ones who leave early.

“I don’t know how that would look, but it would kind of achieve the same ends through a different means perspective,” he said.

Gregozeski said the committee members didn’t sound like they favored adopting the proposed pre-employment contracts at this time, so he suggested he and Uhl do more research to see what other local agencies do.

“We can kind of gather that information and then bring that back to the committee, and see what that is,” Gregozeski said.

The committee agreed and passed a motion to direct staff to gather additional information.

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