A majority of all city employees surveyed disagreed with the following statements about the City Commission:
• Commission concerned about city workers.• Commission listens to what workers say.• Commission considers best interest of workers.• Commission understands working conditions.
The following scores (on a five-point scale) fell from 2005 to 2008:
• I know what city management expects of me — down from 3.4 to 3.0.• Comfortable questioning a manager’s decision — down from 2.9 to 2.4.• Satisfied with leadership of city management — down from 3.2 to 2.5.
• 60 percent of employees overall were either satisfied or very satisfied with employment at the city.• 67 percent were satisfied with leadership of their immediate supervisor.• 67 percent were satisfied with overall working environment.• 78 percent were satisfied with the service their department provided to residents.• 56 percent believed if an employee acted unethically, it probably would be detected and punished.
As the budget turns, morale churns at Lawrence City Hall.
A new survey of city employees found that city workers are becoming more disenchanted with the city’s upper management and with the City Commission.
City Commission received its lowest marks in the history of the survey, which is conducted about every three years. Of the seven questions asked about the City Commission, employees gave the commission low marks in all seven categories.
Thoughts on the city manager’s office weren’t much better. Of the four major questions asked about the city’s upper management, employees gave low marks in three categories. The fourth question was new to the survey in 2008.
“I am concerned about employee morale,” City Commissioner Rob Chestnut said. “The problem is, there aren’t any easy answers here.”
The survey was conducted in the fall shortly after the City Commission struggled with the 2009 budget. That budget session included tough wage negotiations with the police and fire departments, and battles over longevity payments to city employees.
Commissioners said the timing of the survey probably played a role in the generally negative results.
“We had to slow a lot of things down, but I don’t think that gives us a free pass on the survey results,” Chestnut said. “We need to try to address the concerns.”
On the City Commission front, employees were most concerned that commissioners don’t understand the working conditions of the city. The commission received a score of 2.1 out of a possible 5 in that category.
In terms of the city’s management, the satisfaction level that employees have with the leadership of city management dropped significantly from the last survey. In 2005, employees gave the leadership of city management a 3.2 out of 5. In 2008, the score dropped to 2.5.
“I think a lot of this is showing that there are some departments really stressed because we haven’t filled some open positions,” said City Commissioner Boog Highberger. “There are places that we just can’t cut labor anymore.”
Highberger said he thinks working on ways to improve employee morale should be one of the top priorities of city managers in 2009.
The survey marks the first since David Corliss has taken over as city manager. Corliss said he takes the survey results to heart and understands that employees are feeling high levels of uncertainty.
“We have to look for better ways to communicate with employees as we lead the community through some tough times,” Corliss said.
Mayor Mike Dever said he wants to work on employee relation issues, but he said he’s also keeping the results of the survey in perspective. Dever said the survey to some degree may “be a victim of timing.”
“If we asked these same questions now after they have seen what everybody else is going through with the economy, the results may be different,” Dever said.
Dever said despite the poor economy, he still found many of the results surprising. He said he thought the city manager’s office was a good advocate for employees during the last budget session, oftentimes lobbying city commissioners to include wage increases in the budget when some commissioners opposed doing so.
Dever also said he disagreed with several of the assessments the employees made regarding the City Commission.
“Their opinion is negative of management, and the City Commission is the ultimate when it comes to management, so I’m not surprised,” Dever said of the City Commission scores. “But I am disappointed in that evaluation.
“I’ve worked in a lot of different places, and I do feel like city employees are well-treated and have good working conditions.”