Friday, May 03, 2013

Letter to the Editor: Reaction to City Dept. Merger

Below is a essay by Middletown Republican Town Committee chair, resident, and veteran Ken McClellan. All opinions expressed are that of the author and not necessarily that of the Insider staff. 
The Mayor’s Task Force on Efficiency in Government.
Thursday, May 2, at a hastily called Common Council meeting, the Common Council voted 10-2 to merge the Personnel and City Attorney departments, with the HR Director reporting to the city attorney.  There was not much publicity for the meeting, and attendance was sparse.  The meeting was called in order to allow a second vote on the ordinance change, as required by the city charter, within 90 days of the first vote.  The initial vote was taken on Feb 4.  The issue was removed from the April meeting agenda without explanation.

This was the first, and so far, the only recommendation implemented, out of 15 recommendations submitted by the task force.

In defending and justifying this recommendation, the Mayor and the city attorney, Mr. Brig Smith, in various meetings, gave a number of justifications for eliminating the personnel department, and placing that responsibility with the City Attorney.   Taken at face value these justifications make sense.  However, when examined, the justifications are not valid.
Reason 1:  Numerous municipalities and companies operate under this model. 
Mr. Smith and the Mayor stated during the Finance and Government committee that Lansing Michigan, and ‘numerous municipalities in Wisconsin’, and a number or ‘major corporations’ that operate under this model.  Mr.  Smith repeated this assertion at the special meeting on May 2.  Since Mr Smith is from Lansing, I would presume that he would have accurate information about that city.
Here’s what I found.   In Lansing, MI, HR and Legal are separate departments.  When questioned about the discrepancy between his statement at the Finance and government committee, and my finding, Mr Smith caveated his earlier statement, saying that the city attorney was also the personnel director of another agency.  I guess he misspoke at the Finance and Government commission.

Regarding Wisconsin, I checked the larger towns and cities, where there should be a Personnel staff. 
Eau Claire has separate HR and Attorney offices under Administration.
Racine, Wausau, Green Bay, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Madison, Wautoma, Onalaska, Fon du Lac all have separate offices.
Portage, Marion:  looks like the city clerk handles job applications, and Marion doesn’t have a city attorney.   In Grand Rapids, there is an Administrative Department with both HR and Legal as separate offices. That’s 2 cities with an Administrative Department, with HR and Legal as separate offices.  I’ll get back to that later.

As a further check I looked at Michigan.  Detroit and a number of other cities and towns of various sizes that I checked, all have separate Personnel/HR and Legal departments.

I checked a number of cities and towns in Connecticut, starting with cities with a population of around 40,000, like Middletown.  Among them: East Hartford, Milford, Stratford, Wallingford, Southington, Shelton, Groton and Norwich.  I checked Meriden, Glastonbury, Rocky Hill, Waterbury, Torrington, West Hartford, Greenwich, Bristol.  All of those cities and towns have separate HR and Legal.

I also checked a number of businesses, major corporations and small business in Connecticut and other states.  I could not find any that have the Personnel Manager reporting to the corporation counsel.  If this is as wide-spread a practice, I should have found one. There may be companies where the Director of Personnel is an attorney, but that would not be the same as merging the HR and Legal Departments.

Another example cited where the Personnel Department was supervised by the Legal Counsel was Southern Connecticut State University.  I wrote to the Personnel Director, Jaye Bailey. Here’s her response:  “..I serve as the VP for Human Resources and Labor Relations.  I don’t serve as the GC because only the Office of the Attorney General can act as the University’s counsel.  I report to the President. ”. 

So, what was the point of all this research?  At first, I did not believe that anyone operated with this model, but I wanted to try to find examples where it was used.  I found one.  In the interest of accuracy, I did locate one city that has the Personnel Manager reporting to the City Attorney:  Stamford.   Funny, that’s where Governor Dannell Malloy is from.  I found none in business.  If anyone can give me the name of a business that uses this model, I would welcome the information.  I will confirm that information with that business.  The conclusion is that the Mayor and Mr. Smith provided inaccurate, misleading information to the study committee and the Common Council when they stated that in ‘numerous companies and municipalities’ the City Attorney manages Personnel.   If Mr. Smith and Mayor Drew could provide specific, named examples where the Personnel/HR Department report to and is managed by the Legal Department, other than Stamford, I would like to see the list, and I will happily and publicly acknowledge any correction.  But, one city, out of the several dozen that I randomly checked, and not one business out of several dozen checked, does not make this a widespread practice.  Again:  Is Mayor Drew misinformed, or lying?

Reason 2:  Reduce the number of directors reporting to the Mayor
This reduces the total of 21 to 20.  I won’t comment on that, here, but I’ll get back to it later.

Reason 3: Efficiency gained by co-locating the City Attorney and HR. 
This could be done by a simple relocation of one office or the other.

Reason 4: Personnel is governed by laws and requires supervision by an attorney.
Legal concerns are not the extent of the Personnel department.  They do screening, hiring, training, promotions, performance evaluations.  Water and Sewer, Public Works, the Fire and Police Departments, the Common Council and Mayor are all governed by laws, so by the same logic, the Police Department, Fire Department, Council and Mayor should also be reporting to the Legal Department.  Sounds a little ridiculous, doesn’t it.

Those were the stated justifications for this merger.  If all of them are inaccurate, specious or ridiculous, what is the real reason for the merger?  Is there another reason that is not being made public?  

Reason not to merge
There is, however, one very good reason not to place the Personnel Department under the City Attorney.  The City Attorney needs to be an advisor to and resource for all city departments.  The city attorney represents the city in legal matters.  He or she should not be directly involved or managing routine operations of any department.  Department directors should certainly seek his advice as needed.
HR is responsible for recruiting, vetting, hiring, training and developing employees.  The Director of HR must at times hear work grievances, which could result in legal action against the city.  Would the Director of HR be a neutral hearing officer if reporting to the city attorney?  I don’t believe that is possible.  

There are 15 recommendations in the task force report. 
Here are a few, in the order they were presented in the report:
Establish a Technology Advisory Committee
Institute  performance appraisals with specific, measurable goals
            Supervisory and Management Skills Training
            Review City Personnel Rules
            Enforce Internal Controls and Checks and Balances
            Merge Information Systems and Tax Assessor into the Finance Department
            Reorganize the Finance Department and add a Grant Writer
            Merge Legal, Personnel and Human Resources
            Merge Arts and Culture Office and Building Division into Planning, Conservation
            Merge Senior Services into the Recreation Department

This is the order in which the recommendations were presented by the task force.  Merging the HR and Legal departments was Number 12 of 15 on the list.  Why did the mayor start with eliminating the personnel department? 
What is the status of the other 14 recommendations?  Will any be implemented?

During the meeting on May 2, Council members hinted that my opposition to this merger was political.  It is not.  I agree with a number of recommendations of the task force, and look forward to the mayor and council implementing those recommendations, including the Management Training, Performance Standards and Evaluations and enforcing Internal Controls. And I look forward to the improved service that will be provided to the citizens of Middletown by a more efficient, well-trained, well-led staff.

As a final  comment.  The Mayor’s task force was directed to reduce the number of directors reporting to the Mayor.  They went from 21 to 13.  I have a recommendation reduce that number to 4 Directors reporting to the Mayor, each with 4 – 7 Assistant Directors reporting to each Director.  The model I propose has been used by the US Military quite successfully, and is used in the majority of businesses across the country.  Group city departments and offices by functions.
Establish 4 Departments:  Administration, Safety, Public Works, and Services.  Take the current 21 Directors and group them as follows:
Administration:  Human Relations, Information Systems, Legal Department, Personnel Department, Tax Assessor Office, Town Clerk Office.  Include Finance and the City Treasurer in this department.
Safety:  Emergency Management, Fire Department, Health Department, Police Department.  Include Communications.
Public Works:  Planning, Conservation and Development, Public Works Department, Water and Sewer Department, Parking Department.  Include vehicle, building and grounds maintenance and custodial services in this department.  Include such portions of Parks and Recreation that do maintenance and landscaping.
Services:  Russell Library, Senior Services Department.  Include such portions of Parks and Recreation as Youth and Sports programs and Arts & Culture programs.

This organization:
1.      Reduces the number of directors from 21 to 4, saving money on salary, and reducing the number of direct reports to the mayor.
2.      Balances the number of direct reports to each director.
3.      Improves communication and coordination by grouping like functions.
4.      Places all vehicle maintenance under one supervisor, and consolidates purchasing of parts and supplies, maintenance management and supervision of repairs.
5.      Places all building maintenance and custodial services under one supervisor, and consolidates purchasing of parts and supplies, maintenance management and supervision of repairs..  This could be expanded to include building currently managed by the board of education. 
6.      Places all grounds-keeping/landscaping work under one supervisor, which should improve also resource usage and scheduling.

The proposal above is just that, a proposal, not a plan.  But I do have examples of this model being used successfully, and think that it is worth looking into.

Thank you for your attention,
Ken McClellan
Chairman, Middletown Republican Town Committee

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