On Wednesday, the Vanguard piece on employee morale generated some good discussion. The Vanguard is concerned that we may be about to lose some good employees.
The Vanguard in its discussion noted two key factors – one is salary and the other is the need for a cultural change. The Vanguard, during the economic downtown, has led the way on pushing back against exploding employee compensation. At the same time, we know from the city manager search that Davis is on the low end of city manager compensation. It turns out the same is true across the board – the city of Davis pays less for a variety of management positions than comparable neighboring cities.
As stated on Wednesday, I believe we can get away with less salary if we can deal with the issue of the culture where citizens, and at times councilmembers, have mistreated city staff. Davis can be a fun place to live and work. We have an engaged citizenry. A community that cares. A community that has been willing to increase taxes to make sure that city services and school education continues at a high level.
At the same time, however, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, we are in need of a cultural change. No one wants to receive less pay to work twice as hard to get good initiatives passed. No one wants to take abuse in the form of emails, text messages and voicemails on a daily basis over their jobs.
This was not intended as our call to raise salaries, but rather a call to change our culture. I will get to that point in a minute. But I want to address several considerations raised by our readers.
First, I want to reiterate this is not a call by the Vanguard for raising salaries. There are some who believe that the discussion about employee morale is simply a ruse for talking about increased compensation. I can see where people might believe that.
My discussions recently have suggested we might see a push for slightly higher compensation but on the order of 1 to 2 percent per year, which would be more of a cost of living adjustment than a salary increase. I don’t see any one – at least on council – pushing for more than that – at least at this point in time.
I think we do need to have a full analysis of where the city sits with regard to other communities. I understand that many people believe that the entire state is overcompensating municipal employees, but we are competing against other communities in terms of salary and benefits.
On the other hand, perhaps Davis can be satisfied with having its top positions turning over every few years, as its more ambitious up and coming employees take other positions where they can earn more money. Those who stay, however, may end up being those who have progressed beyond their point of efficiency.
That is certainly a viable strategy and something the community can have discussions on.
The bottom line is that this was not a call on the part of the Vanguard to raise salaries, it was a call to discuss the other factor – the culture of this community. I think there is a reasonable complaint there and we should begin addressing it.
A second point is I do have concern that we could lose some people I would consider to be good employees. One counter to that would be, “You have no way of knowing that we won’t end up with better employees.” They add, “New, fresh, happy employees and not the whiners who are unhappy with their jobs and pay.”
I would state that I don’t think it’s good to characterize any employees as “whiners” – and to risk losing good employees because we might get better employees seems like a highly risky strategy.
Matt Williams asks a critical question of another poster when he writes, “What I sense from the examples that you cite is that you feel that the right and proper thing for citizens to do is to hold their tongues and let the staff and electeds make decisions for them. Am I reading that right?”
I would argue that this is not about asking people to hold back on their beliefs or opinions, rather it is about creating a climate where differences of opinion are handled in a more constructive manner.
One person noted, “Much of the abusive behavior takes place in commission/committee/task force meetings and behind closed doors.”
What I have seen (but do not possess) are examples of emails that are abusive to staff. I have also heard about phone calls and meetings where members of the public in various capacities, as well as councilmembers at times, have been abusive to staff.
Unfortunately, unless those emails get disclosed in a public records request or someone turns them over for publication, we cannot provide examples.
But I think if we get into a debate over whether this is happening, we are missing the forest through the trees. What we should be doing is hoping to make small changes that will make people’s work experience more pleasant.
We can agree to disagree without being disagreeable. We can agree to not question each other’s motivations without tangible proof. We can agree to be professional and courteous in our interactions. None of those things should be controversial.
It may be that good staffers will always leave places like Davis because they have better opportunities elsewhere. We need to at least have the discussion as to whether we want the ability to try to keep people we consider invaluable or simply adopt the approach that attrition will happen.
At the end of the day, we may not solve this problem – it may just be the cost of doing business in a city with 65,000 people and with limited financial resources.
But, still, there are things in our control that we should be able to change.
—David M. Greenwald reporting