Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson criticized a special counsel report on mistreatment within the public works department, telling local media it was a “waste of money.”
Alongside interim Public Works Director John Peavy, Stimpson said the administration had taken steps to correct issues between management and employees before the Mobile City Council received the report from Patrick Sims.
“To us there were no surprises and after reading the report, we actually felt there was a validation of some of the things we had identified and expressed ourselves about and things we were doing to correct it,” Stimpson said. “We also felt, after reading the report, that it was a complete waste of money and waste of time. Because it failed to produce any evidence of misconduct that wasn’t already known, or acted upon, actually. When you think about what the union was saying about racism and retaliation and hostile work environment, there was no finding or evidence that existed.”
Sims did tell councilors that a majority of the 35 current and former employees he interviewed didn’t believe the actions of a supervisor toward them was racially motivated. However, the report highlights two incidents that may need further inquiry when it comes to the question of whether employees were retaliated against.
An employee named Travesia Agee, who helped negotiate a pay increase for trash employees, was moved to a different job in a different building, Sims wrote. Another, Eileen Corkern, was terminated, Sims found.
In keeping with administration policy to not publicly discuss personnel issues, Stimpson did not give the reason for Corkern’s termination but said it was not due to retaliation.
Stimpson further downplayed other issues within the trash department, saying they affected a small number of the overall employees in public works.
“So, what you have is a small group of disgruntled employees that have cast a dark shadow on all of public works,” Stimpson said. “It’s unfair to the men and women of public works who are coming in every day, doing a great job fulfilling their responsibilities. So, I want to make sure that the public knows that this is a small group of disgruntled employees who have tainted the entire department.”
Both Stimpson and Peavy blamed “outside agitators” for pushing some of the employees to complain.
At roughly the same time Sims was conducting his investigation, Stimpson contracted with Robert Adams to find solutions to the issues between management and the employees. Since Adams finished his review, Stimpson said the administration has implemented supervisory training and enlisted Peavy to help make employees feel more appreciated.
“When John tells you he’s buying doughnuts or coffee for the employees, it is a way for John to spend some time with them, drinking coffee, eating doughnuts to be able to tell them he truly appreciates what they’re doing,” Stimpson said. “So, even though I haven’t gotten a written report, I know things are already in place to equip John to do a better job as leader of public services.”
After releasing his report, Sims suggested to councilors that supervisors within the trash department receive additional training.
Lagniappe has requested records related to bills for both Sims and Adams. When the records are made available Lagniappe will report them.
In the report, Sims suggested employees didn’t trust they could benefit from an incentive package. Trash department employees had been asking for raises for months, but shortly after meeting with city officials were told they would receive an incentive-based pay plan instead.
The incentive plan is still in effect for public services, despite the council passing a 5 percent raise for those same employees in the final fiscal year 2019 budget. The administration has not yet implemented the raises.
Instead, as Peavy described, employees have the opportunity to receive incentives based on safety, attendance and obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
The attendance incentive is $5 per day, or $50 per pay period, Peavy said.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot, necessarily, but if you factor in that we recognize you have two weeks’ vacation, we have holidays, sick days — that’s about $1,200 per year,” Peavy said.
If an employee calls in, they lose the $5 for that day. However, if they don’t show up for work and don’t call in, they lose the entire week.
“There’s the motivation,” he said. “There’s the incentive.”
Upon implementing the incentive plan, 180 employees qualified for a 2.5 percent pay bump for having CDLs, Peavy said. It doesn’t mean they are all drivers, he added.
“They have their license, it shows a responsibility on their part,” he said. “It shows us we can advance them in other areas to where when we have shortfalls and needs, they’re there to pull up that group.”
Other incentives include a $250 bonus per quarter for not damaging equipment and a bad-weather bonus. Taken together, Peavy said, the incentives could equal a raise of 11-12 percent.
Stimpson said he opted for the incentive as opposed to an across-the-board raise because the incentive could be cost-neutral. Also, compared to the police and fire-rescue departments where a pay disparity did exist, Stimpson said public works employees were paid comparably to those working in others cities throughout the state.
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