Zero tolerance drug policy causes stir

Hernando City Attorney Kenneth Stockton makes a point during discussion of the city's newly-adopted zero tolerance "drug free" workplace policy.

Hernando aldermen Tuesday adopted a "zero tolerance" drug policy on behalf of employees with the City of Hernando but not without stirring debate on one of the policy's main edicts — termination upon testing positive for drugs or alcohol.

The policy will not go into effect for 30 days and could be amended.

The random testing would include police, fire, employees who drive regularly and interact with the public and potential new hires once they are employed.

At issue is approval of the drug-free workplace policy with the acceptance of a $120,000 grant from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for the new 1.73-mile multi-use trail at Renasant Park ($150,000 including a $30,000 in kind match from the city). Approval of the drug free policy was needed in order to comply with grant requirements.

Ward 2 Alderman Andrew Miller took issue with the fact that an employee would be automatically terminated upon detection of drug or alcohol use.

Miller, a pastor, said he was concerned about the ability to rehabilitate the employee and possibly "salvage" their job.

Mayor Tom Ferguson said he was of the opinion that the city was either going to have a zero drug tolerance policy or not — there could be no equivocation on the matter.

City Attorney Kenneth Stockton pointed out that other cities have more stringent policies than the one that Hernando was considering. Stockton also serves the city in the capacity of city prosecutor.

Upon final approval was a resolution that stipulated zero drug tolerance for city employees but allowed some discretion by city officials, i.e. aldermen, who approve the hiring and firing of employees. Language to that effect was added back in after having been stricken out at Stockton's suggestion.

"I'm not saying I want folks on drugs — let's get that right," Miller said during a pointed exchange with other officials. "I'm not against having a zero drug policy for workers. I don't think we need to go from a positive test to automatic termination."

Stockton was matter-of-fact about the policy.

"This has been talked about over the years," Stockton said. "Having a drug-free policy is about having protection for the city. I think the grant is great for the city. It motivated the city to do this (enact a drug-free policy). It's been needed for a long time."

Ward 4 Alderman Michael McLendon, an insurance agent, tended to agree with Miller that rehabilitation of the employee or a chance to be rehabilitated should not be eliminated with the adoption of the new policy.

"In health insurance, addiction is considered a disease," McLendon said. "Are we turning our back on that disease? Do we not offer them a chance to be rehabilitated?"

"I think if you know you have a problem, check yourself into a rehab," Ferguson replied.

Ferguson argued that employees who have a drug or alcohol problem should step forward before they are tested in order to get into a rehab facility.

Once testing positive, the policy is unequivocal and that employee would be terminated as a zero tolerance policy implies.

However, scenarios were introduced about whether individuals travel to states that allow legal marijuana on their own time or personal vacation and return to work.

Marijuana can stay in a person's system for 30 days.

"Let them produce hotel receipts," Ferguson said.

Ward 6 Alderman Jeff Hobbs added his thoughts on the issue.

"What if a person smoked marijuana three weeks ago and got hurt on the job?" Hobbs said, adding that marijuana would still be in that person's system. "And if there was a drug screen, they would fail."

Ward 5 Alderman said there are other drugs which can interact with one another to create a "false positive."

"There is a little bit of wiggle room," Brooks said.

Stockton said no.

"When they go to the collection site they have to tell the tester what drugs they are taking," Stockton said. 'What you have before you, you will find in a lot of cities."

Ferguson agreed.

"I just prefer to see the city be a drug-free workplace," Ferguson said.

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252

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