Survey turns up ‘turf’ and ‘in-fighting’ concerns in county workforce
Employees of Leelanau County feel very good about the service they provide to residents, although internal strife seems to dominate their concerns.
Those are a couple conclusions coming out of a survey of employees in which they were asked to provide lists of five things they consider strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) to county government.
County administrator Chet Janik, who assumed duties in April, has conducted the SWOT survey at assignments along his professional career and when hired as a consultant. A former superintendent at Buckley and Charlevoix, Janik said the survey has been asked of staffs of public schools and non-profit corporations.
Compared to past surveys, he was pleasantly surprised that employees rated the level of service provided by Leelanau County a collective 8.2 out of a top score of 10 — the best score of the 10 or so surveys he’s conducted.
“It’s to rate ourselves, how we perform internally in providing services to residents,” Janik said. “The most typical ratings were an 8 or a 9.”
Within the survey, however, were some less positive results, as county employees voiced perceptions that elected officials go beyond the requirements of their offices in governing county employees, and that internal staffing issues pose a threat to county governing.
Janik had not encountered those results in his previous surveys, but said some of employees’ answers may be in response to the structure of county government as much as the people who hold posts. Counties have elected sheriffs, prosecutors, treasurers, clerks and registers of deeds who are largely responsible for running the operations of their own departments. Commissioners set overall policy and, perhaps most importantly, are in charge of allocating county resources.
Whether conflicts between departments and commissioners are avoidable or the result of overlapping responsibilities, Janik said the issue needs to be addressed. He plans to meet with elected officials and employees to hear their input over the next several seeks.
“When you come in this building, you really don’t care whether you are going to an elected or appointed official. You don’t care because you are here to receive a service,” Janik said.
Surveys were sent through an email from Janik to more than 100 county employees, with 46 taking the time to return them. Most were printed and filled out as hard copies, and not signed. Just a handfull were returned through email, which would allow Janik to know the identity of the employee. Janik said he printed out emailed versions and added them to his stack without writing down the names of authors.
Janik combined original survey answers into generalized categories in organizing results. Some employees provided answers in a few words or short sentences, while others provided pages of input.
Some 74 percent of employees rated “quality of services” as a strength of the county, followed by 72 percent who listed “experienced and dedicated employees.” Other strengths included fiscal responsibility, the new county government building, “respected leadership in the Equalization, planning and emergency management departments,” and a “new positive spirit” epitomized by the survey itself.
Some 62 percent listed “internal confl icts” between departments and employees as a weakness of the county, followed by 58 percent who were concerned about “micro-management,” and “personal agendas by certain board and elected officials.”
The survey was released last week to county commissioners at an executive session of the County Board, and then to county employees. One commissioner was surprised by the assertion that commissioners were overstepping their bounds.
“Micromanagement by elected offi- cials,” said commissioner Richard Schmuckal. “What does that mean. Am I one of those guys?.”
Replied Janik: “I don’t think so.”
Other weaknesses listed within county government were a need to upgrade and promote public usage of web-based services, professional concerns and “issues with the accounting department.”
The accounting department reference drew the attention of county clerk Michelle Crocker, who said some confl icts are part of the job. County accounting department head Jennifer Zywicki is the person whose duty it is to turn down requests for funding that fall outside of county policies, budgets or even state law, she said.
“It’s never easy when you have rules and regulations and accounting rules you have to follow,” said Crocker. “It’s never fun to tell people ‘no,’ and sometimes it’s not received well.
“With the survey results, I will be working closely with the administrator to review the concerns expressed by the employees through the SWOT survey, and see how they can be addressed.”
Under the category of “opportunities,” some 66 percent of respondents listed “review and restructure duties of various departments.” No other grouping bested 50 percent. Other opportunities were “greater cooperation” among county, township and village governments; upgrading of technologies and Internet options; improving services, housing and employment options for younger generations; creating a new “team approach” between elected and appointed officials; and streamlining the budget process.
The major “threats” mentioned by employees were “internal staffing issues” that create “turf wars” (64 percent), and the state and local economy (52 percent). Other threats include resistance to change and complacency, a lack of public knowledge of county programs and services, and a lack of opportunities for younger people due to an aging population.
Janik, who retired from Charlevoix public schools to accept the Leelanau County administrator position, said most governments will undergo a transition phase in the coming years as staffs filled with veteran workers turn over. Many — or maybe most — Leelanau County employees are nearing an age that will allow them to retire and receive a pension.
“There is a wealth of knowledge that we’ll be losing in a couple years,” he said.