03/12/12 — City used email for decisions on hiring

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City used email for decisions on hiring

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on March 12, 2012 1:46 PM

After four months of greenlighting hiring decisions via email, the Goldsboro City Council will likely return to approving those decisions during open meetings.

A request from the council Sept. 21, 2011, dictated that, following the already agreed-upon 30-day delay in advertising, all vacant positions within the city pegged to be filled should be run by council first.

That decision came about following a query from District 6 Councilman Jackie Warrick about hires made that he thought had violated the city's hiring freeze. Human Resources Director Faye Reeves explained that those were internal promotions, but Mayor Pro Tempore Chuck Allen said he would like for every position to be run by council.

During that meeting, the council approved beginning the hiring process for the city's public information officer and police chief, and those two positions were brought up again Oct. 10 when Mrs. Reeves provided a list of five additional positions for council consideration.

Those positions were approved for hiring, but the topic was not brought up again, save for within departmental reports, until the City Council's retreat Feb. 14 and 15.

At the retreat, Mrs. Reeves' presentation informed the council of the number of vacant positions each department was requesting to fill, leading the council to ask for a more detailed list showing each position.

She provided that list at the council's Feb. 20 meeting where the council approved advertising externally one of the three positions requested -- an equipment operator position within Public Works.

That could signal a shift back to the more formalized structure of approving the city staff's decision as was used in October compared to the email confirmations that have been used to determine whether to fill vacancies on the city's roster.

City Manager Scott Stevens said when department heads contact him with position openings, he emails them to the council members. If there are no objections raised, he has instructed the department to proceed with the advertisement.

That process was used to begin seeking a replacement for outgoing Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. promotions coordinator Lara Landers in early January.

Stevens sent out an email to the council members Jan. 4, the day of Ms. Landers' resignation. In some discussions since that email, Stevens and Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan have maintained that there were no responses to the email, but Feb. 7, Stevens discovered an email from Allen questioning whether the job description for Ms. Landers' former position should be rewritten. In that email he also said he felt DGDC needs only two permanent positions "at this point." A full-time administrative assistant position, vacant since August, has been supplemented by a part-time assistant in recent months.

Asked at the retreat whether Stevens ever spoke with him directly about the DGDC promotions position, Allen said a conversation didn't happen in direct response to his email, although Stevens said he had shared discussions with Allen often leading up to the email. The opening, which DGDC Director Julie Thompson said should be filled in the coming weeks, was posted Jan. 14.

Stevens said before the retreat that this practice, which was used to proceed with three other hirings between October and February, was not a way to circumvent the system utilized in the October hirings, and that it was only a means to expedite the process.

"Rather than holding the position for the council meeting, I email them. Council hasn't objected to that," he said. "It saves you from waiting two weeks."

Stevens said the 30-day waiting period between vacancy and advertising the position was waived in some cases due to the necessity of the positions, especially in the case of three-person staffs like Community Affairs and DGDC. The rush to hire a DGDC promotions coordinator had much to do with that position's role in handling many downtown events, including the Center Street Jams which will begin in May.

The email conversations don't violate the state's open meetings law because the council members are communicating individually with Stevens, he pointed out. Because the interaction of four or more councilmen represents a quorum, they can't use group emails to discuss issues.

"The email version is more efficient," he said of the two hiring processes the city has grown to use since the council requested being involved in each hire.

He also added that the hirings approved through email were not kept secret -- they were posted on the city's website as openings for the public to see. He said the change from courting approval from the council in open meetings to emails instead was not an effort to limit discussions, either.

"We haven't been trying to keep the discussions private -- there's been very little discussion, actually," he said.

Besides Allen's concerns about the DGDC position during which he said "this is probably better to talk about in person," he also requested, in a separate but similar email, that two other positions -- a senior administrative support specialist for Community Affairs and a recreation center assistant at Herman Park Center -- be held until they were discussed at the retreat to help with the city's attrition goal. Stevens sent an email seeking direction on those positions on Jan. 20.

Finance Director Kaye Scott revealed at the council's Jan. 23 meeting that the city was on pace to accumulate its budgeted $1,186,000 in attrition this year, with departments saving $640,510 worth of salary expenditures by holding about 47 vacant positions open throughout the fiscal year. The city currently has 14 positions frozen.

According to Mrs. Reeves' memo to council at the Feb. 20 meeting, department heads received the OK to proceed with hiring those positions in January, with the recreation center assistant position listed as being approved for hire Jan. 20. Allen's response to Stevens' email, at 3:32 p.m. on Jan. 20, came just 22 minutes after the city manager sent the email.

The other email response from council came from District 6 Councilman Jackie Warrick who commended Public Works Director Neil Bartlett for promoting from within to fill a vacancy left by an upcoming retirement back in December. The promotion left a position open for a senior administrative support specialist, which was to be advertised externally.