Sunday, September 7, 2003
Police Detective Dave Kleiber will be conspicuously missing when the Steamboat Springs City Council discusses how much it should compensate him for military leave.
On Friday, Kleiber, a U.S. Special Operations Commander, was deployed to Iraq. But he has many supporters who are more than willing to take up his cause at Tuesday night's council meeting.
For the past three years, Kleiber has battled with the city over how much it owes him for the first 15 days he is away from the job because of military leave. Kleiber said the city should pay his regular salary during the first 15 days of leave. The city believes it is following the law by covering the difference between what he would be paid through the city and how much he earns as a National Guardsman.
Kleiber also is requesting that the city's health insurance policy continue to cover his wife, Sameta Rush, because his military health insurance would require her to change health care providers, and she then would have to travel to receive care.
Attorney Charles Feldman, a former Marine, and the city's Director of Public Safety Services J.D. Hays will speak on Kleiber's behalf at Tuesday's meeting.
Feldman said he hopes to change the city's policy on military leave pay and to have Kleiber's wife remain on the city's health insurance policy. It would cost the city $2,559 a year to pay Kleiber annually for 15 days military leave and $4,303 to carry his wife on the city's health insurance program for one year.
It is not a legal issue, but a moral one, Feldman said.
"It is a couple thousands of dollars we are talking about here," Feldman said. "It is just horrific that the city would send that message."
The city council has discussed Klei-ber's situation in executive session, but this will be the first time the matter has come before council in a public hearing.
Michael Condie, head of Routt County Veterans Affairs, said the American Legion and Routt County Veterans will be at the meeting.
"Somebody needs to step up to the plate and support this man and support what is going on. If somebody doesn't, what does it say about Steamboat Springs?" Condie said.
The main dispute between the city and Kleiber is over the wording in the state statute, which stipulates any public employee with the National Guard or reserves, "under law is entitled to leave of absence from his public office or employment without loss of pay, seniority, status, efficiency rating, vacation, sick leave or other benefits," for 15 days a year.
The city's policy maintains any full-time permanent employee should be granted leave up to 15 working days per year for participation in required military activities. The policy further states employees will receive full compensation, will retain their position and will sign their military checks over to the city.
Because Kleiber makes more training as a major in the National Guard than he does working as a police officer for the city, the city allowed him to keep his National Guard pay. But the city refused to give Kleiber the nine weeks of city salary he said he should have accumulated the past three years.
City Resource Manager John Thrasher has said that what the city is doing is legal and that they have worked hard to accommodate Kleiber.
A survey the city did with other governments showed that Breck-enridge, Glenwood Springs, North-glenn, Golden, Grand Junction, Vail and Lafayette follow a similar policy.
But Kleiber's supporters point to Gov. Bill Owens' extension of paid military leave from 15 to 30 days for state employees and private companies such as Sears & Roebuck that have gone beyond the requirements of the law.
"The law states this is the minimum you can pay. We are challenging the city council (to say) this is the minimum standard; we are going to do something more than that." Feldman said.
Condie said the state needs to clarify the language so those in the military receive the benefits they deserve.