If any incident can tug at the heart strings and beg for immediate and compassionate resolution, it’s that involving Nicki Stone, a gutsy young police officer and single mom of two fighting breast cancer who now finds herself at the center of attention over a city sick-leave policy. It’s also another instance that more broadly highlights the hypocrisy of a society that so often claims to be pro-life but can’t ever quite manage it day in and day out.
In this case, the flap involves a city of Waco policy that allows city employees to “bank” thousands of hours of sick-leave time. The city is even obligated to “buy” up to 720 hours of this unused sick-leave time when one who accrues it retires. Yet this policy precludes an officer’s awarding some of his or her stockpiled sick-leave time to fellow officers suffering serious maladies.
The complicated logic behind this prohibition appears to hinge on what happens if the officer donating the hours becomes sick later or encounters some situation where he or she needs lots of those hours. Then, as City Manager Dale Fisseler notes, a problem develops unless other officers individually donate their hours. Meanwhile, city officials fret about the taxpayer dollars paying for the intricacies in all this, especially in Waco’s decidedly anti-tax environment.
Judging from public reaction to Trib staffer Tommy Witherspoon’s June 16 story about Stone, people strongly favor an exception being made for this 34-year-old police officer, given she has put her life on the line and done things many of us lack the courage and stamina to do. And fellow officers want to donate sick-leave time to her. Then again, what if this were a mother of two working in some other department at City Hall? What if this were a city refuse worker picking up our garbage? A street maintenance worker patching our potholes and working in extreme weather? Would these too qualify for exceptions to city policy? And what does this say of employees in the private sector — the backbone of our nation, after all — where similarly heart-rending crises can arise and threaten to devastate entire lives physically and financially?
Quite obviously, city officials must decide soon whether to make an exception in this case, then possibly re-evaluate a policy that could be irrelevant or absurdly expensive if too often ignored. How do other cities handle such sick-leave banks? What’s a reasonable compromise so costs don’t escalate? How can sick-leave hours be properly and efficiently managed? How about a committee of police officers, city administrators, citizen-servants and other city employees to approve any and all sick-leave time transfers?
But beyond the question of how sick-leave banks operate in taxpayer-funded entities, this episode should spur all to reconsider health care in our country, particularly as Senate Republicans craft a national policy behind closed doors without any public hearings. One truth dominates all, something 18th-century philosopher Samuel Johnson noted: Very few of us care about health care till we or our loved ones become seriously ill. Then something we dismissed as peripheral and unlikely to affect us threatens to rob us of our loved ones, our livelihoods and our fortunes. Then we care.