SOUTH PASADENA — This city has decided to require job applicants to pass a drug and alcohol test before they are hired.
"You just don't have a right to be a public employee if you use narcotics," said Mayor Lee D. Prentiss.
The new policy, approved unanimously last week by the City Council, will not apply to current employees. Officials said that the city has not had problems with drug abuse by its 118 employees and that the new policy is aimed at averting potential problems.
City Atty. Charles S. Vose said that no record will be kept of the test results and that applicants who fail the test may reapply at a latter date. The city manager also will have the discretion to test applicants seeking part-time employment.
City Manager John Bernardi said he will meet this week with Police Chief William Reese and Dr. Donald Thomas, who conducts physical examinations for the city, to determine the testing procedure.
Bernardi said that because the city currently has no job openings, it will have time to establish testing procedures.
In an interview, Capt. Curtis Kline, president of the South Pasadena Firefighters' Assn., called the testing unnecessary.
"If there is no problem, I can't see looking for a cure," he said.
Kline said, however, that his organization will work with city officials. But he called the decision to institute the testing a political move and compared it to a hiring policy adopted earlier this year that gives preference to non-smokers for all city jobs.
"They (city officials) seem to like to get their name in the paper and they come out with this decision," Kline said. "It's a little city making a big noise."
Lt. Richard Kowaltshuck, president of the South Pasadena Police Officers' Assn., said his group is awaiting an explanation of the new policy from the city manager before commenting.
Bernardi said he has not brought the issue to the attention of the employee associations because it does not affect people who already work for the city. "We're talking about new employees," he said.
City officials said that one reason for the testing is to provide protection against insurance claims that could result from incidents involving workers found to be under the influence of drugs.
"We have to consider that the judgment wouldn't be against . . . the employee, it would be against the city," Prentiss said.
Councilman Robert Wagner expressed concern that some test results might be inaccurate. But he agreed that testing will be helpful.
In adopting the policy, South Pasadena joins at least a dozen other cities in the state that give drug and alcohol tests to job applicants or current employees, according to an informal survey conducted in May by the League of California Cities.
The Tustin City Council recently adopted a policy requiring all applicants for city jobs to take drug tests.
The city of Glendale has one of the most comprehensive testing systems in the country. Glendale tests all applicants for city jobs as well as employees seeking promotions, and may expand its policy to include random testing of all city workers.
South Pasadena will test for use of amphetamines and methamphetamines, benzodiazephines, barbiturates, cocaine, methadone, methaqualone, opiates, phencyclidine (PCP), marijuana and alcohol.
"These drugs were selected based upon known abuse in the community and the ability of each drug to adversely affect physical/mental performance," the policy says.