Austin city workers face random drug testing

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The major issue considered by the Austin City Council during the March 25 meeting was adoption of a drug-free workplace policy, with random drug-testing among the requirements.

Mayor Bernie Chamberlain and aldermen Laurel Carnes, Anthony Fible, Matt Sheets, Philip Whiting and Tammy Williams attended the meeting. Randy Ryan was unable to attend.

The 14-page ordinance establishing Austin as a drug-free work place was developed by the Municipal League, Chamberlain said.

Under the policy, all employees must be free from the effects of illegal drugs and alcohol during working hours as a condition of employment. The use of alcohol or drugs while on duty, on city property, in city vehicles, during breaks, or reporting for work is prohibited, with the possibility of termination if the prohibition is violated.

The policy sets out that the city will conduct random drug-testing of employees considered to hold safety- and security-sensitive positions. Among the positions defined in the ordinance are police officers, firefighters, motor vehicle operators who carry passengers, anyone who performs maintenance on vehicles that might carry passengers; and employees “whose duties meet the definition of safety or security sensitive after consultation with and approval by the Arkansas Municipal League, and where operation of a motor vehicle is not incidental to the employee’s occupation.”

Chamberlain said the annual cost of the random drug testing is 50 cents per person in the city’s population, or about $500. under the policy, refusal to submit to drug testing is grounds for termination.

Drug-free programs and education, provisions for prescription drugs, when testing other than random is required are other conditions set out in the policy.

Provisions are made for voluntary admission of having a drug or alcohol abuse problem, which includes continued employment while receiving outpatient treatment and/or counseling, or a leave of absence. But an admission would not be considered voluntary if made after being notified of selection for random drug testing.

The council voted to adopt the ordinance, with Williams voting against it.

In another issue John Ryan, director of public works, explained a $2,500 expenditure as required by Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. The charge is for nine core samples taken at the city sewage treatment pond.

The samples were called for when the application was made to renew the wastewater treatment permit, Ryan said. The pond is more than 40 years old and has never been dredged, so ADEQ requested the samples to verify the suitability of the pond, he said.

Chamberlain announced that AustinFest would be held May 4. Parade at 10 a.m. followed by the AustinFest pageant at 11 a.m., a number of other attractions and entertainment have been arranged, she said.

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