Novato police concerned over city worker COVID bonus pay distribution

The North Bay city of Novato is rewarding eligible employees who worked during the coronavirus pandemic with thousands of dollars in bonuses.

The money will be paid out evenly amongst all employees whether they worked full-time remotely for the city, or on the front lines, which is a problem for the head of a group that represents the city's police officers.

"City services did not shut down and employees continued to provide a high-quality of service and even our law enforcement employees being right there on the front lines. We wanted to do something that was impactful to recognize our employees," said City of Novato Mayor Eric Lucan.

Lucan was among members of the city council to give his full-throated support to the proposal during a meeting this week, that’s not only given out because of the pandemic, but also as a means to address high staff turnover.

Over 200 people have quit the city since 2015.

"The whole reason we’re doing this is to say thank you to our employees. To keep our city running. To keep our city working," Lucan said.

It now joins other cities that enacted similar policies such as San Jose, Santa Clara County, and Santa Rosa in providing extra cash to people that work in places like the 9-1-1 call centers, police departments and maintenance departments.

Regular full-time employees who worked all of 2020 will get $2,000 on April 1, while those hired in that year get $1,000.

Then, to retain employees, the other half of an employee’s eligible allotment would be paid out in April of next year.

"If the bonuses are being given to all city employees are because of the struggles that were put on people by COVID, I think the police department should be recognized for the additional struggles they had to endure," said Sean Sinnett, president of Novato Police Officers Association.

Sinnett said officers in the association appreciate the bonuses and are excited to receive them, but express concern that they’re being evenly, regardless of whether an employee was working at home or in the field like many police officers were forced to do," said Sinnett.

"Interacting with members of the public, responding to deaths where COVID may have been a contributing factor to the death, going into hospitals, going into different jails or medical facilities. It can’t be compared to other city departments," Sinnett said.

Mayor Lucan says the payout is being done to immediately recognize staff for their work and that help for the police department – which is currently struggling with staffing and retention issues – isn’t out of the question.

"For this component, we wanted to make sure that it was equitable across the entire organization and try to determine which individual had more exposure than another… that’s difficult from a policy standpoint to make, but at the same time we recognize the inherent risk of being on the front lines especially in law enforcement," said Lucan.

Money for the bonuses is being paid from the more than $9 million that the city is set to receive from the American Rescue Plan.

Next week, the council is expected to hear more about staffing challenges within the police department and possibility begin discussions on how to compensate officers who’ve had to pick up the slack.