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City board OKs drug test policy changes Tuesday

January 5, 2012

At its meeting Tuesday, the Starkville Board of Aldermen approved revisions to the city’s drug and alcohol personnel policy.

Starkville Personnel Officer Randy Boyd said he has spent the last year reviewing policies from other municipalities and organizations to revise the policy. He said he wants to keep Starkville’s work force drug-free to make services to citizens safe and reliable.

The previous version of the policy limited neutral selection testing to safety-sensitive positions, such as firefighters, law enforcers, medical technicians and city machinery operators. Neutral selection is a random testing policy which not only ensures random selection, but also prevents the employer from waiving the selection.

“In my opinion, it should be applicable to all employees, not just limited positions, in the interest of the decision to make sure all employees are part of a drug-free workplace,” Boyd said.
The amended policy makes all city employees subject to neutral selection. Starkville Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill said a previous board made the decision to limit the city’s first random drug testing policy to safety-sensitive employees.

“At the time, I was working on that resolution, and I recommended that it encompass the entire employee population,” Spruill said. “Because of the newness of it, I think, they felt testing the safety-sensitive positions would meet our needs. In some measure, it was because we had never had it before. I think as we’ve gone on, the comfort level with this program brought this current board a sense that we could administer it fairly and have it encompass the entire employee population.”

Spruill said spreading neutral selection testing beyond safety-sensitive positions will help the city operate more efficiently. The recent discovery of an Internal Revenue Service penalty of approximately $18,000 demonstrates how important every employee at the city’s disposal can be, she said.

“Even the person who does your payroll or accounts payable can be essential to keep your city in good standing,” Spruill said. “In essence, we consider all positions within the city to be sensitive positions.”

Boyd said elected officials are still not subject to neutral selection testing.

“This is restricted to at-will employees as opposed to elected officials,” Boyd said. “Discipline or oversight of elected officials does not fall under the scrutiny of the department head of the city (who) would be involved in regular day-to-day administrative oversight.”

Another key change to the policy is the removal of language discharging employees who fail their pre-employment drug test, replacing it with a note that applicants should not be allowed to begin work until satisfactory test results are obtained. Boyd said the new practice has been in place for some time; the revision simply reduces the policy to writing.

“As a matter of practice, we do not permit any employee to start to work until we’ve got a clear drug test,” Boyd said. “We want to make sure the person has a good, clear test before they begin employment. That’s been our practice all the way along, and I don’t know exactly why it got written into the policy the other way.”

Finally, the new policy makes several changes which reference the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and its privacy rule. Boyd said most of these changes are clerical.

“Instead of the (individual) filling out a form when they first go in and (having that form) exposed all over the office, it’s done in a conversation with a doctor to protect privacy concerns,” Boyd said. “It’s just strictly a protocol (and) process type of thing.”

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