April 13, 1998

Local News

Council to survey city staff's morale

  by Andrew Walgamott
   Staff reporter

   WOODINVILLE--With the departure of a few Woodinville city staffers recently, the City Council wants to know how the employees feel about their jobs. Mayor Don Brocha said the council is preparing to do an attitude survey of city staff and conctract employees. He said the study would let the council know if staffers have the physical and managerial support to be effective and productive in their jobs. "The City Council is looking at the fact we've had a lot of people leave in a short period of time and we're trying to figure out why," Councilwoman Carol Bogue said. Councilmembers Carol Bogue, Randy Ransom and Barbara Solberg have been appointed to an "attitude survey subcommittee." The group is now in the information-gathering stage before reporting back to the Council for go-ahead.
   The council's concern over employee morale blossomed in February. Since then four city staffers including Public Works Director Ron Cameron, Senior Engineer Gary Wiggins, planner Todd Jacobs and accountant Jan Burdue have left the city. Traffic Engineer Kurt Latt is leaving soon as well.
   There is a wide range of explanations for the departures, ranging from standard management clashes to a hot job market to it being the City Council's own fault. Engineers are in high demand in Puget Sound now. Cameron, who retired from Woodinville in February, was quickly hired by Gray and Osborne, a consulting firm the city is using for work on Woodin Creek. Wiggins unabashedly said he was "greedy" and had found a better job in the private sector. The City of Bothell, which doubled their permitting services' division earlier this year, has hired Latt. Another factor in the turnover may be the city's recent consolidation of engineering contracts with CH2M Hill. The Public Works department is down to 3.5 employees though the '98 budget reserves funds for 10.5, according to the Executive's Office.
   Councilwoman Marsha Engel said she felt there was bound to be a turnover due to managerial style differences between former Executive Joe Menehini and Rainey, whose style is considered "strong" by council. She also said the council could be at fault as employees have been asked to do more than they're paid for, as the council has trimmed the budget for a possible real estate purchase.
   Councilman Bob Miller had a different slant on why employees are moving on. He noted that Woodinville had a number of young professionals just beginning their careers and said that the city couldn't compete with other organizations offering higher wages or more responsibility.
   In March, the council and Rainey debated on who should take the lead on an attitude survey. Then, on Mach 30, Brocha appointed the members of the subcommittee. He notified all city employees April 10 of the survey. Councilmembers now downplay the survey. Brocha said the city was entering a different stage in its gorwth. "Things are changing. We just want to take the temperture of the organization," Brocha explained last week.
   Solberg hoped it wouldn't distract the council or staff. "We look at it as part of doing business. We're not looking at it as a crisis. We just think it's something to look into," she said. Still, Engel called it a "waste of taxpayers' money and our time." The survey will also establish a baseline on staff morale to be used as a measure for evaluating the city manager, Deputy Scott Hageman said. Rainey's contract calls for performance evaluations. This will be the first such survey the Council has done.