Tuesday, March 1, 2011

SNOW (JOB) DAYS: City employees criticize snow handling

Cite poor resource handling, inappropriate personnel decisions 
COLUMBIA, 3/1/11  (Beat Byte) --   With streets all over town left either partly or completely un-plowed after this month's record snowfall, citizen complaints were numerous.  City Hall responded with a public relations blizzard, explaining that everyone was working round the clock to make sure the streets were cleared. 

Not so, say some City of Columbia employees, who complained that they were forced to stay home from work and -- unlike their peers at the University of Missouri and Columbia Public Schools -- lost vacation days.  "The grinches that closed all city offices for two days during the blizzard are docking employees," one person commented.  "Doesn't seem fair when nobody had a choice."
Other employees characterized City Hall's snow-day personnel decisions as "counterproductive."
"During the council comment portion of the February 7 City Council meeting, staff said public works got two new [snowplowing] trucks, but no additional people to drive them," another city employee told the Columbia Heart Beat.  "No one is looking for an excuse, much less bull sh-- excuses.  It is not practical for the street division to increase staff enough to operate two 12 hour snow removal crews.  What is practical is to make the best use of the resources that are available."

But with sending employees home during the crisis, docked pay and all, "this was not done," the person explained.

With commercially licensed truck drivers staffing several departments -- from solid waste to parks and recreation -- department supervisors were in fact "asked if there was anyone who wanted to work snow removal," said City of Columbia public works superintendent Bill Weitkemper, who assigned fifteen people from his department -- sewer maintenance -- to help get the city through the unusually hard storm. 

But when Weitkemper offered his own services to the next layer of management, he was turned away.  "I told the Street Superintendent twice that I was available to do anything that he needed me to do," Weitkemper explained.   "I do not have a commercial drivers license, but I offered to drive a one ton truck, supervise in the field, or answer the phone.  I was not asked to help."
Instead, on a Friday afternoon, public works shut down 24 hour snow removal.  "There were a few employees that came in and worked six hours on Saturday," Weitkemper explained.  "I told my employees and the Street Manager we need to remember what our mission is and who we work for.  I told them this was an opportunity to improve the way we do things." 

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