Gas chief has had enough,’ is leaving city after 21 years

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 5, 2002

Vicksburg Gas Department Superintendent Billy Joe Quimby said Wednesday he’s “had enough” and is leaving city employment Friday.

Quimby, 40, has worked for the city for 21 years. He said he quit for a variety of reasons. He would not list them, but the latest change handed down from City Hall is a new break policy. Quimby called it another “minor” reason.

“This job is a whole lot more stressful than people realize,” Quimby said. And, “There’s more stress now than ever before.”

The new policy, described in a memo handed out the day before Thanksgiving, says all city workers must take breaks at 9:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. and sets lunch between noon and 12:30. Department heads must approve exceptions, the memo says.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said the memo follows his discovery of two city employees asleep in a city truck. Their defense was they were on break, he said, and without standardized rules they could not be disciplined.

Quimby, who heads the department that keeps natural gas flowing to city homes and businesses, said he doesn’t believe the policy will work the way Leyens expects.

“If you’ve got a gas leak you can’t just take a break because it’s time,” Quimby said.

A recent example was on Thanksgiving morning, he said, when gas department employees were called to work at 2:30 a.m. to repair a pressure control regulator that was malfunctioning.

While most residents were busy cooking their holiday feasts, some gas department employees, including Quimby, worked until noon on the problem.

Gas department employees are among the 151 workers in the city’s public works division, the largest, single group of employees. In total, there are 501 full-time city employees including 93 with the police department and 128 with the fire department.

“All of our employees can’t be subject to that time line,” Leyens said of the policy. “I’m sure 90 percent of our employees are doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Since taking office, Leyens has pursued twin policies of making municipal workers at or near the state’s highest paid and more accountable. Emergency workers, including police and fire, are not subject to the break policy.

Leyens said the napping employees were in the City Pool parking lot. He did not identify them or say for what department they worked.

“We want to see them working, but we can’t be everywhere at one time,” Leyens said.

The city administration is asking citizens to help by calling the city’s action line, 636-3411, if they see an employee taking a break at a time other than the designated times.

The report will be sent to the employee’s department head and if the employee was not directed to take a break at a different time, they could be written up, Leyens said.

None of the city laborers asked about the new policy would comment, but Craig Upton, director of parks and recreation, said another issue will be the safety of workers during summer months.

“We’ve got guys out cutting grass in the dead heat,” Upton said.

The 14 employees in the parks and recreation department are responsible for maintaining 17 parks across the city. Most of that work is outdoors, and Upton said workers are encouraged to take extra breaks for water.

“I don’t want anybody passing out,” Upton said.

Concerns were also raised in the human resources department about the policy and morale, Leyens said, but Lamar Horton, director of human resources, said employees will continue to be able to take their breaks as they did before.

“It really will not be a great change in what they were already doing,” Horton said.