A temporary restraining order has been granted to a city employee and mayoral candidate who says city officials are attempting to terminate her leave of absence to inhibit her campaign efforts.
An attorney representing Shari Holweg, a cashier in the city's Energy Department, filed a complaint in 4th District Court on Friday saying Ronald D. Rydman, acting director of the Energy Department, and Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins have acted unlawfully to terminate Holweg's approved leave of absence.The temporary order, issued by Judge Cullen Christensen, prohibits Rydman and Jenkins from terminating Holweg's leave.
Holweg on Sept. 7 submitted a written request for a leave of absence without pay, so she could wage a campaign for mayor. Holweg asked that her leave run from Sept. 14 through either Oct. 4 or Nov. 8.
Although Holweg finished third in the primary election, behind Jenkins and Sherm Hislop, she is continuing her bid as a write-in candidate and wants her leave to continue through the general election.
But Holweg on Thursday received a memo from Rydman saying the needs of the department preclude continuation of Holweg's leave and citing a personnel policy that authorizes him to revoke the leave. The memo says that if Holweg failed to return to work the next day, Oct. 6, disciplinary action would be taken against her. Holweg went to work Friday while her attorney went to court.
"Basically we're trying to run a business here," Rydman said. "She is a full-time employee, and we need her to come to work." Rydman said the leave was originally granted to accommodate Holweg, but in the past three or four weeks the workload of other department employees because of her absence has been excessive.
"Like with any organization, if full-time people are there, the business functions better," Rydman said. "What she does with her time when she's not an employee is up to her."
Rydman denies that the termination is politically motivated.
"I don't know of anybody else who takes a leave of absence to run for office," Rydman said.
But Holweg said that according to the city's personnel regulations, which she and her attorney believe take precedence over personnel policies, the decision to terminate an employee's leave must be made jointly by the department head and the mayor. Mike Colledge, assistant personnel director, also said the ordinance appears to indicate the mayor must approve the termination.
Five to 10 employees request leaves without pay each year, the majority medically related, Colledge said. He said the Personnel Department does not have records showing whether other leaves have been terminated.
Holweg believes the decision to terminate her leave is a ploy to inhibit her campaign and that Jenkins is trying to shield himself from association with that decision. She has refused to return to work until Jenkins sends her a letter saying he is terminating her leave or until he fires her.
"I want him to comply with the law," Holweg said. "I hope the mayor will just leave me alone and let me run my campaign."
Jenkins says he is not concerned about Howleg on a political basis but that the city has an operation to run.
"Leave of absence is normally only given in emergencies and it is a privilege, not a right," Jenkins said.
Jenkins said he delegates responsibility to determine personnel needs to department heads, but that if he must ultimately decide what to do about Holweg's leave of absence, he will "weigh the ramifications, and the ramifications are how badly do we need her to get back to work."