The Hermiston City Council narrowly approved an update to the city’s employee handbook on Monday that includes a 2 percent raise for bilingual city staff, but limits employees’ vacation hours.

Mayor David Drotzmann cast a rare tie-breaking vote in favor of the change after some city councilors objected to a provision in the handbook that would cap all future city employees’ vacation time at four weeks.

“I can’t support that,” Councilor Doug Primmer said.

He was joined by Jackie Myers, Manuel Gutierrez and Doug Smith in voting against the change.

The handbook was previously discussed at the council’s Nov. 9 work session, where councilors asked City Manager Byron Smith to look into what other cities were offering in terms of benefits.

At the time Smith said the amount of vacation, holidays, sick leave and comp time employees were accumulating was making it difficult to get things done.

Smith told the council on Monday that he looked at Pendleton, The Dalles, Canby and Umatilla and discovered all of them capped their vacation time at four or four and a half weeks. Hermiston’s was previously five and a half. Smith also said Hermiston was “toward the top” on the amount of sick leave and comp time employees were allowed to accrue.

Current city employees will still get the vacation time they earned above four weeks; the change will only apply to future employees. City staff currently considered bilingual will automatically get the two percent raise, while new staff will have to pass a language test to qualify.

On Monday the council also held a work session to hear an update on the municipal court.

In April 2014 the city voted to send all Class A misdemeanors to the circuit court. Municipal Judge Thomas Creasing told the council that the change may be working out on the revenue side, but it was having a negative impact on the defendants who were left in limbo as they waited up to 18 months instead of a matter of weeks for the circuit court to even charge them.

“It hangs over your head for months and months,” Creasing said. “Is it fair? Is it just?”

Smith said the city was trying to track individual cases that would have gone through municipal court to get a sense of how they were handled.

Creasing also shared a list of laws passed during this year’s legislative session that had some effect on the municipal court. He said the legislature passed a law allowing people to record in court after the municipal court in Pendleton refused to let someone record their court appearance.

“Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have cared,” Creasing said.

The legislature also passed a law requiring that the court provide translation services for victims if requested. Another law would fine people up to $250 for parking a non-electric vehicle in front of an electric vehicle charging station. Creasing also reminded the council that the speed limit on Interstate 84 across Umatilla County was being raised to 70 miles per hour.

Creasing said lawsuits over sending people to jail for not paying traffic fines could eventually affect the court.

He said instead of immediately issuing a warrant when someone didn’t show up for a court date or didn’t pay their fine he issued a “show of cause” notice giving them a second chance to appear and explain why they didn’t show up the first time.

“A lot of people take that to heart and we get that taken care of and life is good,” Creasing said.

He said if people ignored further warnings, however, and didn’t participate in one of his “compliance days” where defendants had one last chance to come in and take care of their fines, he did occasionally send people to jail.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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