In order to help Island Sand Paper readers learn more about the candidates who will appear on their March 17, 2020 ballot, we have asked Town Council candidates to answer a question of interest in their own words. Their answers appear below in alphabetical order. This is our first question:
A growing number of staff in Town Hall are contractors rather than employees of the Town. Some citizens feel this is problematic and part of a growing distance between Town staff and the citizens they serve. What is your position on this issue?
Dan Allers’ response:
Choosing the correct hiring vehicle for staff is dependent on the type of task, duration, uniqueness and depth of experience or skills required. When a new operation is being started or transitioning to an in-house operation, such as last year’s in sourcing of the permit process or new function such as Short-term rental registration, hiring a skilled resource for a short duration has merit. The startup effort to organize and implement processes, determine staffing needs and a financial model may very well require an experienced outside resource to get the functions structured, staffed and operational.
Other areas where contracted resources may be advantageous is when the work is seasonal and requires little oversight for routine, well defined tasks or when the unique skill is only required for occasional oversight or guidance, such as strategies on investment or financial decisions while the day to day accounting function is performed by Town staff. However, when a function is core to the everyday operations of the Town, and not materially impacted by seasonal population or weather, full-time staff should provide the Town manager more flexibility for cross training, incentivizing staff performances and stabilizing a payroll structure.
The issue you’re raising is not about Town staff versus contractors, it is about the management of the resource itself. A contracted resource should operate within the same guidelines and sense of dedication as a Town employee. If there are differences in the actions and attitudes of a contractor, then that is a result of either poorly executed personnel services, contract terms and conditions or the resource is not performing in conformance with the contract and should be terminated.
James Atterholt’s response:
Thomas Jefferson said “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” The issue is not so much as to whether our Town’s workforce are contractors or employees, it is do they live close enough to the town to be vested in the success of our island. I believe it is very helpful, whenever possible, to have the employees of the Town live among the people they serve. I volunteer to serve the Town on the Local Planning Agency which assists the Town Council with zoning and planning issues. We interact with these contract employees directly along with the Town Attorney. While they are clearly subject matter experts, I wonder how different things might be if they had to live directly under the rules and regulations they are charged with enforcing? Instinctively, I think it would be helpful for our public servants to directly experience the beauty and paradise of our island as well as the challenges of Red Tide, traffic, and street lighting.
Sometimes contracting out can save taxpayer dollars. Sometimes we can’t find a particular skill set from someone who lives on the island. But in order for those taxpayer dollars to be worth saving, there has to be strict oversight and specific metrics for success. We need to be assured that quality customer service will not suffer and that the contract employees use a helpful tone with our residents and have a servant’s heart. I believe our Town should have it as a goal to hire folks who live on our island. If that is not possible, we should have an expectation that all our Town employees treat our fellow residents as if they were a next-door neighbor.
Robert Burandt’s response:
I am all for government light, our Town is to small to have the experts we need in each and every field. For example at first the County did all the plan reviews for construction, set up inspections and had County employees do the inspections. They discontinued that service a few years ago for reason unknow to me. Our town cannot afford an in house plumbing, electrical, roofing, dry wall and finishing wall inspector. So we need to get back with the county or find an alternative way to accomplish this with lower cost to the Town and homeowner/business owners. The Town Manager is responsible for staff and outside contractors and as far as I know he seems to be on top of this. I do agree with some that it is taking to long to get permits and for things to get inspected, but that appears to be a work in progress. It is not the Councils job or responsibility to micro manage the Town Manager it is their job to give him, direction, the tools and leadership to get things done. This would be a priority of mine to look into the cost effectiveness and success or lack of success of outside contractors. There is a fine balance between saving money and getting the job done.
Bruce Butcher’s response:
The question of using contractors or outsourcing rather than permanent hires is usually an economic consideration.
In the business world I was in, we usually outsourced non core (non competitive advantage) capabilities. The goal was to not be burdened by long term continuing fringe cost and to easily be able to flex workforce with volume. This could also be considered as the government lite model in some circumstances.
We do have some significant staff today that is outsourced. Rather than make a judgement one must understand why this is the case today.
Three years ago the town was in more of crisis than most people understood. The town had a history of turnover in town managers and staff. What most did not understand is the town had some poor systems, processes and record keeping. Our temporary town manager, before Roger, told me there was absolutely zero files in the town managers office when he took the job. The financial system was woefully inadequate. There were some exceptions, the water department comes to mind.
With the hire of Roger and his long experience in municipal government he quickly recognized the town’s shortcomings. He had the contacts to bring in professionals who would help establish processes and systems. Along the way Lee County decided that they could no long operate as our permitting and inspection department. That function is now a town function but one using contractors. Permitting and inspection varies with economic activity and a portion might wisely be contracted.
Overtime I would like to see more of the staff be town employees but for now we need professionals to develop our systems and processes. Also I like to believe that our contract workers, since they are not rotating, can identify with our town folks as well as permanent employees.
Forrest Critser’s response:
Having lived on “The Beach” for fifteen years, I have witnessed “government lite” and have seen it bulging in recent years. We were forced to take over many responsibilities formerly belonging to Lee County. We took in many tasks the town staff and Town Council thought would be better and more efficiently handled in house. Now, as a private citizen not having insight into town finances, I do not know the ins and outs of which is cheaper: in house or outsourced. I have read in recent months of many towns in Florida who have cut their payroll costs to the bone by hiring entire companies and contractors to do ALL of the towns many jobs. Be it good or bad I can’t say until confronted with the issue.: What I do think is interesting is that last time I ran for town council the local newspapers were asking “What happened to government Lite”. Now the question is: Is it bad to be heading toward a lite government again. Isn’t politics fickle? If I am elected to the 2020 town council, I will do my best to make the best decisions for the town and its citizens. I am after all only human.
David Drumm’s response:
I personally have not heard this complaint. I deal with the town at different levels almost daily. In general I believe contract employees are the best way to handle ever changing town needs especially shorter term projects. Contract employees allow us to easily up or down size quickly.
Bill Veach’s response:
I have dealt with several Town employees through personal tasks and through years of advisory committee service. I have seen no correlation between their performance and their status as contractors or direct hires. I have not personally witnessed more turnover from contractors than direct hires or contractors being more distant, and haven’t heard from the “some citizens” that the question mentions. Our situation as a small municipality can generate employee turnover, as some career minded staff go on to larger cities or higher positions. It seems to me that most of the staff has changed since I first went into Town Hall several years ago. The Marine Resources Task Force is on their third staff liaison since I have been Chair. Most of the staff and contractors I have dealt with at Town hall are pleasant, competent professionals. I have had a long career as an engineer, manager and built a company from my garage to over 100 employees. Dealing with staffing was a constant task for a rapidly growing company, as it is for a small town in an era of low unemployment. There are many advantages with contracting employees and I could see why it is a tool that the Town Manager would want to be able to use. If this concern is due to “some citizens” being not happy with a specific employee, it is not the Council’s job to intervene. I have found that micro-managing employees is destructive to productivity and moral and I will avoid micro-managing the Town Manager, who is an employee of the Town Council. I would be interested to hear from these citizens about their complaints regarding contractors being distant.