Editorials, Opinion

City’s decisions seem retaliatory

“Perception is reality. If you are perceived to be something, you might as well be it, because that’s the truth in people’s minds.” — Steve Young, former professional football player

The City of Morgantown has struggled lately with understanding that the way the public perceives its actions can be even more important than the actions themselves.

There’s probably a perfectly good reason the city decided to change overtime rules for the Morgantown Police Department. (Officers in the understaffed department will no longer be able to accrue comp time, or paid time off, in exchange for working overtime. Instead, they will receive usual overtime pay.)

However, the decision came shortly after Judge Susan Tucker ruled in favor of the Fraternal Order of Police to stop the city’s civilian police review board.

We’re disappointed in Judge Tucker’s ruling — we have been vocal supporters of the review board — but even we must admit that the timing of the city’s actions can seem retaliatory. Much like changes it made in the wake of its legal battle with the fire department.

Morgantown Communications Director Andrew Stacy said comp time is being eliminated for other city departments as well, though he didn’t specify which ones, and explained that the comp time is rarely used “within a reasonable time frame.”

That last part sounds subjective, especially considering the police department is severely understaffed at the moment. Anyone who has ever done shift work knows that you often can’t leave until someone arrives to cover the next shift. This is especially true for health care workers and first responders. And if there is a chronic understaffing issue, current employees may need to work so many extra days that there is no chance to use their comp time.

Morgantown’s officers will be paid for their overtime, but money in your pocket is not a replacement for rest, and burnout is a very real issue that is hitting front line workers hard and causing massive turnover.

The city should allow officers to choose between continuing to accumulate paid time off or to take the overtime pay. For those who would like to bank comp time, the city should extend the time frame in which those days off can be used, in acknowledgment that Morgantown’s police officers may go months before there is enough staff to cover all shifts so those who have been working tirelessly can take some vacation time.

In order to smooth any ruffled feathers — and to refute any perceptions the city’s decision is retaliatory — city management should approach the Morgantown Police Department with some kind of compromise, if not the one we’ve suggested above, as a show of good faith.

And in the future, the City of Morgantown needs to be cognizant of the way its actions appear to the public. It is a public entity meant to reflect the public’s interests and values. Poor timing or presentation can call perfectly reasonable actions into question and turn public opinion against city government.