City sees increase in staff resignations, needs to fill 18 full-time positions

photo by: Chris Conde

Lawrence City Hall, 2018.

City of Lawrence officials say the city is losing specialized staff at a high rate, and that significant pay raises could be required to stem the tide of outgoing employees.

More than 20 highly specialized city staff members whose jobs require formal technical and scientific training have resigned in the past few years, according to information the city provided the Journal-World. About 10 of those resignations were employees in the city’s municipal services and operations department and occurred over the past several months.

City Manager Tom Markus said that the resignations are mainly market driven. He said that amid record-low unemployment rates, the city’s pay has not kept up with pay being offered in surrounding communities. Markus said the landscape is especially competitive for those with science and technology degrees.

“What I’m seeing is a much more competitive environment right now,” Markus said. “And I think that the employees with those skillsets know they are in much higher demand than they used to be.”

The city has about 750 full-time employees. While Markus said that some resignations are expected for various reasons, some of the specialized workers who have recently resigned specifically said they were doing so because they were offered higher pay elsewhere. He said that in some cases those employees were offered tens of thousands of dollars more than what the city is paying.

Brandon McGuire, assistant to the city manager, said that the city is currently looking to fill 18 open full-time positions, several of which are high-level managerial and technical positions. He said that several more vacancies are in the interview stage. Those numbers do not include openings for fire, medical and police positions.

Markus said that while he thinks city staff have managed the resignations well, the departure of specialized staff does stress both the people and systems of city operations.

City job listings include a handful of openings for specialized positions in the MSO department, which maintains the city’s water, sewer and transportation infrastructure. One of those open positions is an environment, science and technology general manager, which oversees functions related to laboratories, industrial pretreatment, environmental regulations and permitting, among other functions, according to the listing. That position’s starting salary is $68,485 to $99,304 annually, depending on qualifications. Another open position is for a project engineer, which helps oversee a variety of civil engineering projects associated with infrastructure system improvements, water, wastewater, traffic studies and traffic projects. That position’s starting salary is $61,148 to $99,304 annually, depending on qualifications.

MSO Director Dave Wagner said that the resignations have affected what the city is able to get done. Wagner noted, for example, that the city has not been able to clean as many sewer lines as it did a year ago. Wagner also said that finding employees to fill those positions is getting more difficult.

“When we go out and look for new people, the pools are smaller than they used to be, really across the board for every position,” Wagner said.

Though Markus said the biggest factor in the resignations is the competitive market for specialized staff, he also noted that management changes generally tend to result in some resignations. The municipal services and operations department is the result of a recent merger of the city’s public works and utilities departments. Wagner was hired as the director of the new department. The city also recently hired a new finance director.

Markus told Lawrence city commissioners at the commission’s last meeting that resignations were increasing and informed them of an upcoming discussion regarding the city’s pay structure. The city hired a consultant to study its pay plan, and the city has tentatively scheduled a discussion of the results for the commission’s meeting on Feb. 5.

McGuire said that the city’s current pay plan uses a series of classifications and grades to determine employee pay. He said the results of the study will provide recommendations for a comprehensive overhaul of the pay plan, and that if city leaders choose to implement the changes it would affect many positions.

Markus said he thinks that if pay is not increased, the city will inevitably lose more specialized employees.


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