It’s our pleasure to be a resource answering questions that come to us. What I’ve found is that often the questions are similar so it led to this idea to share the questions and answers here as they might be relevant to what you’re going through now, too.
Check this one out from a City Administrator in Kansas. If you have a question, email it to info@PeopleService.com. If your question is selected for this enewsletter, we will send you a cup of poo. Well, not really “poo” but a coffee mug and poo emoji.
In preparation for our licensed water/wastewater operator’s retirement we posted his position in hopes of filling and overlapping training for a couple of months. It has been 4 months and we still have not found a qualified operator to replace him and he is going to retire before the end of the year. I proposed contract management to the city council, but the mayor wants to maintain control and doesn’t want to in his words, “lose jobs”. Any advice on how to overcome this hurdle?
Thank you for the question. It is interesting to note that reviewing the questions over the last few months by your peers that every question, concern, objection and hurdle all stem from two main triggers: Staffing issues and/or Control issues. For your question, Jobs and Control are the two hurdles I will navigate through:
We completely understand elected officials want to create jobs for their city and for their constituents. Water/Wastewater operators get thrown into the Public Works mix and they both have two very different and distinct functions. Water/Wastewater operators must be looked at as Specialists. Like a city administrator, city engineer, city attorney, etc. there is education, certification and ongoing training involved in these roles. It makes sense to want your public works personnel to live in the city, to be a phone call away to remove the tree branch from Mrs. Smith’s yard or empty the trash and the park, these tasks make sense as they are seen by your residents, and they are the gateway of their perception of how the city is doing. Do you require your ‘specialists’, engineer, attorney or administration to reside in the city or do you find the talent and ask that they have a reasonable commute? We require our operators to reside within 30 minutes of the facilities they operate. They buy fuel in your city, they eat lunch, get groceries in your city, they will purchase parts, attend meetings, volunteer in a lot of cases in your city. Contract management is not a loss of jobs, yes, the city loses those line items on your budget, but the city still gains the commerce mentioned as well as the experience of hiring specialists such as yourself. The city removes the risk, insurance costs and the expense of turnover, onboarding, and training.
The city sets rates and ordinances. The city still manages expenses and controls capital decisions. The city is still regulatory responsible. Contract management of your water/wastewater operations gains the city a partner and removes the staffing component of it and the headaches that go with it.
If for example the city contracts with PeopleService, there is a clear and concise scope of work agreed upon, clear monthly reports on what is being done. Not happy with our performance, don’t renew. The city has all the control and in fact has gained control over their water/wastewater operations.
This is a big one, the perception of losing control. It is a perception, and therefore:
- Do you really have ‘control’ of your staff? Specifically, water/wastewater.
- If the employee(s) are the only one that know water/wastewater, who is holding them accountable? And to what standards? How can a city control a specialist? Do you tell the engineer how to do his/her job?
- If there are performance related issues, is it easy to make a change?
- Do you really know what the staff is doing?
- If you need to replace equipment or major repairs, are you certain the cause is legitimate and not because of a lack of maintenance or if it’s just a want and not a need?
- Are you ‘really’ compliant or just ‘pencil whipping’?
By no means are these points an accusation that a city staff is not competent. I am simply making the point that you really do not have control anyway, it is just a perception.
The benefits of hiring a company like PeopleService to manage and operate your city’s water/wastewater outweighs the ‘losing control’ perception. The city gains a partner, an expert in the field, a deep bench of qualified specialists. We can walk with you through capital improvement discussions/projects. Help the city make fact-based decisions on rates, future repairs/upgrades. Maximize the infrastructure investment by implementing a rigid and detailed maintenance protocol. All of this will be reported in a monthly council report. We are an extension of your city services, and we take that very seriously. I would welcome the opportunity to have a conversation with your city to answer any questions and address any concerns that there might be.
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