Elon’s board of aldermen found no resolution again this week when it struck up its second discussion on what to put in a “COVID policy” for its employees.
After spending about a half-hour last week offering up then revising ideas on what to include – be it vaccine incentives in the form of cash or paid leave, or mandatory testing, among other notions – the board spent about 40 minutes on the subject during its regular meeting Tuesday night. But, as was the case with last week’s gathering, the discussion around the policy led some on the board to believe they were going in circles rather than drawing nearer to a final decision.
With that, the aldermen directed town manager Richard Roedner to schedule a special meeting in the coming weeks, at which point the board hopes to have gathered input from staff on what, if any, incentives would encourage unvaccinated staff – Roedner said that some unverified employees may be vaccinated but opting not to divulge their status – to get the jab. As of this week, 47 percent of the town’s full-time employees have voluntarily told the administration that they’re vaccinated; statistics on part-time staff isn’t available, the manager said.
Board deadlocks on vote to approve manager’s policy draft
After getting feedback from the aldermen last week, the town manager presented his revised policy Tuesday, which included the option for those who are either already vaccinated or receive the vaccine by November 1 to choose between a $200 bonus or two days of paid leave.
Additionally, the policy included mandatory weekly testing for those who refuse to provide proof of vaccination. Any employee – vaccinated or unvaccinated – who became ill, quarantined as a close contact, or missed work to get their shot would have been given up to 40 hours of paid sick leave.
After questioning whether cash or even paid leave would be an effective motivator; a general doubling-down on hesitancy to instate a vaccine mandate; and a desire to get input from staff on what might serve as a successful incentive, the board deadlocked on a motion put forward by alderman Quinn Ray to bring the discussion to a close and approve the policy.
After receiving a second from Mark Greene, the motion was voted down by Davis Montgomery and Monti Allison, while Emily Sharpe initially said she was undecided. After settling on a “yes” vote, Sharpe then immediately changed her mind, before ultimately casting a “no” vote after Greene rescinded his own approval and broke the tie.
Sharpe suggested a special meeting in two weeks to continue the discussion with input from town employees, presumably through an anonymous survey that alderman Allison suggested could pose questions such as whether cash or time off would be a motivator, ideas for any incentive option that might be more effective, or if the staff member is set on not receiving the vaccine. The town’s manager told The Alamance News Wednesday afternoon that the date of the special meeting is to be determined.
Mayor: ‘I don’t see us making any progress on this tonight’
By the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the ongoing, now roughly 70 minutes of cumulative discussion on the policy had appeared to take a toll on the board and the town’s manager, with mayor Jerry Tolley eventually cutting off the discussion when he deemed that it wasn’t heading toward a resolution.
“I don’t see us making any progress on this tonight,” the mayor said, drawing laughs from some in the meeting chambers.
Tolley’s conclusion echoed an observation from Montgomery, the board’s mayor pro tem, who about 20 minutes earlier had said, “I just think there’s enough ambiguity here that we’re just going in circles. I hate to admit it, but I’m growing a little tired of it, because there’s no answer, and I hate having to kind of push around a rope that doesn’t have an end to it.”
For his part, the town manager, who said that his initial idea had been to instate a vaccine mandate, told the board toward the start of this week’s discussion that while he had concluded that a mandate might not be the best option for the town, he saw “[ignoring] this issue of COVID” as failing to meet the town’s commitment of providing residents with services and protecting its employees.
“I don’t know what else to do,” he told the board. “I’m not willing to throw my hands up and say, ‘All right, we’re willing to have more people get sick every week.’”