The Ottumwa Courier

July 26, 2013

Examining the veteran hiring process

By CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa City Council is ready to address concerns about the city's process of hiring veterans.

Mayor Frank Flanders requested that the city look at its practice of hiring veterans following a roundtable with U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack last month.

"Making sure they're aware what positions are available is very important," Flanders said. "One thing we can do, even if it's not within our jurisdiction, is help connect them with the right entity that can help them."

Vietnam War veteran Kenney Matthew Sr. raised the issue at the meeting, saying veterans are given "a dirty deal" when returning to Ottumwa to look for jobs.

Matthew said he was unable to gain a position with the Ottumwa Fire Department after he returned.

"I was over-trained," he said. "They should've hired me anyway, but they didn't. This city has a problem hiring veterans."

According to Iowa Code, veterans applying for civil service positions must be given preference in the form of 5 percentage points added to their grade, which ranks them on a civil service entrance list. An additional 5 percentage points are added if the veteran has a service-connected disability.

But the city cannot automatically hire someone just because he or she is a veteran. The veteran has to be qualified for the job "with or without reasonable accommodation."

City Attorney and Human Resources Manager Joni Keith said she doesn't know how many of the city's 300 employees are veterans — since it would take poring through every employee's application to find out — but one new employee on Monday's agenda is.

The council will vote whether to appoint Ryan Mathisrud, a National Guard veteran, to the position of planner recently vacated by Nick Klimek's move to the department head's seat.

Marty Cremer, director of Wapello County Veteran Affairs, said while he doesn't know what percentage of city employees are veterans or the volume of veteran applications the city receives, he's "all for it."

"Especially after hearing the questions raised regarding city employment of veterans at Congressman Loebsack's meeting, it would be interesting to actually see what those statistics are," he said. "If we've got a qualified veteran, I'd love to think that that veteran at least gets a consideration for any position they're applying for."

Overall, Cremer thinks veterans have at least the same difficulty finding jobs as do non-veterans.

"Possibly the difficulties affect them a little more, I think, because these people are coming back from service, especially the ones in the Middle East, and everything at home has been disrupted by them leaving," he said. "They're trying to put things back together and then they've got to get back out in the workforce."

He hopes that the jobs service members left behind when they were deployed have been saved for them once they return.

"But I also know companies have to keep moving on, I just wish that when people come back home, even if they have replaced their former position, I wish they would create a position for them to let them get their lives back on track," he said.

But there are programs in town that veterans can take advantage of, including counseling and testing at the Iowa Workforce Development's veterans services department.

The council will also discuss extending the time limit on citizen input at council meetings. Currently, an individual is allowed to address an agenda item for three minutes at most, but Flanders wants to extend that to 5 minutes, following meetings where citizens speaking out against the rezoning of the Ottumwa Veterinary Clinic were cut short.

"When they do go a little over time, as long as what they're saying is relevant to the issue and not redundant, they should have the chance to finish what they're saying," Flanders said. "I felt really badly when one of the council insisted the rules be followed strictly and individuals were not able to finish what they wanted to say when they still had points to make."

In 2010, the ordinance was changed to reduce the time for citizen input to three minutes, he said.

The proposed ordinance changes would also give the mayor or a council member the right to limit citizen input to three minutes if there's a large group of people who want to speak on an item.

"But I don't think I've had, at any time when I was mayor, too many to speak to reduce to three minutes," Flanders said.

Several individuals speaking on the same issue could also yield their allotted time to one spokesperson, who would be limited to 30 minutes or less.

"What it comes down to is the citizens' rights to not only free speech but to redress their government over issues they are concerned by," he said. "Whenever that's curtailed, it's not right because we work for the people."

Finally, the council will discuss the estimated cost of including an additional sidewalk on the up-river side of Market Street Bridge during its upcoming overhaul.

The council will meet at 5 p.m. Monday in council chambers at City Hall. The meeting will air live on GO-TV, cable channel 6.

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to twitter.com/chelsealeedavis.