Manhattan Beach will require employee vaccinations
by Mark McDermott
City of Manhattan Beach employees will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or a valid exemption, by December 1 as a new condition of employment. The City Council approved the policy Tuesday night in a 4-1 vote.
Councilperson Richard Montgomery and Steve Napolitano brought the matter to the council due to concerns over the costs and inefficiencies of the city’s current COVID-19 testing policy. Although 84 percent of city employees are already fully vaccinated, the mandatory weekly testing required for unvaccinated employees costs $30,000 a month.
Montgomery said both that cost and the safety of public interactions suggested a change was necessary.
“Our city employees are under our purview, and they deal with the public,” he said. “Flat out, what we do in the city is customer service.”
“I do have concern about the cost, and concern about the interface with the public,” Napolitano said. “There are all sorts of conditions of employment that folks have to meet, and this would be one of them.”
Montgomery said that the testing policy has been worth the cost because it found one employee who was asymptomatic but COVID positive.
“So right there, it’s making a difference,” he said. “But do we want to spend $30,000 a month forever? No. It’s wrong.”
According to Human Resources Director Lisa Jenkins, 63 employees remain unvaccinated. “That’s $30,000 a month for 63 employees,” Montgomery said.
Public testimony was largely against the vaccination requirement.
Resident Fred Taylor said the issue could be solved by having every city supervisor equipped with an electronic thermometer and oxygen meter to test employees each morning.
“Really, I wonder if liberty versus tyranny is really on the agenda today,” Taylor said. “I have a question. Are we really worried about COVID, or are we fixated on this vaccine?”
“I am neither for nor against vaccination,” said lifelong resident Mahlone Becker. “What I am for is the right of each member of this beautiful city to have the responsibility to make their own choice.”
“It goes against the Constitution and the Nuremberg Code [principles for human experimentation],” said Britney Nucci. “No human being should be forced to take an experimental medicine in order to attend school or hold a job.”
Councilperson Suzanne Hadley also opposed the vaccination requirement. She said testing costs could be reduced by simply giving employees a $100 stipend to get tested at CVS, and noted that of the eight employees who tested positive over the summer, half were vaccinated. She also noted there have been no cases in September.
“This is just locking the barn door after the horse is stolen,” Hadley said. “I mean, the cases are over. We don’t have cases of current unvaccinated employees. In fact, we have just as many COVID cases among vaccinated employees. So why is this the time to mandate vaccines?”
Hadley also expressed concern for employee recruitment and retention, particularly among the police force, which has eight unfilled positions. She asked MBPD Chief Derrick Abell to weigh in and he acknowledged a vaccine mandate would make recruitment more challenging.
“I believe it would have an impact on us,” Abell said. “I think about morale right now and how delicate it’s been over the last 18 months, and this is just one more added item to address…And more importantly, with the recruitments out there, the word reverberates not only throughout the South Bay but beyond LA County, in terms of what agencies are doing. So they’re listening intently right now, not just in our department, but other locations as well.”
Hadley urged her colleagues not to implement the policy, at least not yet, perhaps waiting 60 to 90 days to evaluate the direction the pandemic has taken.
“This Bible verse that popped up in my head when lying in bed the other night, and it’s ‘Parents, don’t exasperate your children.’ We have an obligation not to exasperate our city staff, and I do think that this goes a little too far… I don’t want to go there. I think freedom is important. I think this is a solution in search of a problem, and that ship has sailed.”
Napolitano pointedly responded that city staff “are not children” and that freedom was not at issue.
“My concern is that we’re spending a lot of money on a few people who don’t want to get vaccinated,” Napolitano said. “If they don’t want to get it, then claim an exemption. It’s not that hard…It’s not a matter of freedom when you work for the public. Do you think they want to wear masks all the time? I don’t. We do that because it’s a condition, and we follow the rules, and we are supposed to keep people safe. It’s not just about the employees getting COVID. It’s about giving it to anybody else, too.”
Mayor Hildy Stern said that health officials have made it clear that if vaccinations are not significantly ramped up the pandemic will continue with surges on top of surges of new cases.
“This concept of being exasperated is true for all of us, and that is because we’re in this endless cycle of COVID, 20 months and we are still addressing this….That is what is exhausting, is we could be looking at another cycle of this. So when we are making this decision, let’s just be exhausted with where we are, and let’s try to get ahead of this.” ER