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Oxford City Council passes several resolutions after tense start to meeting

A tense interaction kicked off an otherwise typical Oxford City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 19.

During public comment, Oxford resident Steven Snell asked why the meeting didn’t start off with the Pledge of Allegiance. Prior to the Council meeting on March 14, every in-person meeting began with the Pledge.

For the past three meetings, that tradition has stopped. Despite this, the city’s agenda platform, Granicus, still shows the Pledge at the top of each agenda.

“I’m seeing a pattern emerge, so I’m curious,” Snell said. “When did we stop saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of these meetings, and who made that decision?”

Mayor Bill Snavely clarified that he made the decision after reviewing the rules of Council with City Manager Doug Elliott. Because the tradition of starting with the Pledge isn’t officially laid out, Snavely opted to stop until the rules are changed.

“All it takes, and I would support it, is a motion,” Snavely said. “ … The next time we review the rules of Council, I think we can bring that up.”

Snell questioned if Snavely had an agenda in front of him and if he could read the first line. Snavely’s printed copy had been corrected to reflect the new policy, but the online agenda Snell referred to incorrectly listed the Pledge.

“We’re not having a debate,” Snavely said.

As Snell and Snavely continued to push against each other, Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene clarified the discrepancy, saying the online agenda was posted before Snavely and Elliott reviewed the rules and opted not to include the Pledge until it was officially a part of meetings.

“The Granicus tool that we use [to post agendas] online does not allow us to make edits,” Greene said. “It’s a template that’s locked in and it does say Pledge of Allegiance online and the printed version does not, so there is a discrepancy based [on] the tool we use to build the agenda.”

Snell questioned whether the mistake invalidated the online agenda, and Greene said the city is looking into agenda platforms other than Granicus because of the inability to change templates.

After public comment, Council passed a resolution opposing House Bill 563, which would limit municipalities’ ability to regulate short-term rentals such as Airbnbs.

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Council also passed three resolutions adjusting the contracts for the city’s three police unions to align with the city’s updated parental leave policies.

Last November, Council approved a resolution to revise the Employee Handbook for 2022. Among the changes, the city added eight weeks of paid parental leave that didn’t take time away from accrued vacation or sick leave, followed by four weeks where employees can apply accrued leave.

Because members of the police union sign different contracts than the standard city contract, the resolutions were necessary to update their parental leave policies.

Prior to the change, all three unions accounted for maternity leave but required employees to use accrued leave followed by unpaid leave. Two out of three unions also had provisions for paternity leave. With the change, all new parents will be able to take off work under the same policy as the rest of the city’s employees.

“It’s nice to think that unionization and the union and management relationship doesn’t need to be adversarial all the time,” Councilor David Prytherch said. “It doesn’t need to be inflexible in the face of change, so … I’m glad that we’re able to do this and not have to wait until the next contract negotiation.”

Council will meet again at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 3, in the Oxford Courthouse.