Friday, November 27, 2009

They Say It's Getting Better.....
The city's auditor-general, Alain Lalonde, released his annual report earlier this week. No one was surprised at the details of abuse, scamming and outright fraud perpetrated on the taxpayers by municipal employees who are supposed to be serving the ratepayers rather than picking their pockets.
What Citizen Ellie can't understand is the lack of concern expressed by various councillors. Bay Councillor (and mayor wannabe) Alex Cullen was quoted as saying "It's outrageous." Was this real outrage or was it of the nudge,nudge, wink, wink variety ? Other councillors expressed the view that sick leave abuse and other scams are to be expected, but "things are getting better" since the auditor-general was hired and most managers are now "buying in".
"Things are getting better" isn't good enough for this taxpayer and it probably isn't good enough for most of you who are reading these words at this moment.
Frankly, the rot starts at the top. With a couple of exceptions, the majority of current council members have been around since amalgamation, and a goodly number have been around prior to amalgamation. They are well beyond their "best by" date and hopefully many will be put out to pasture in 2010.
With few exceptions, these councillors have distinguished themselves with their laissez-faire, minimalist approach towards careful husbanding of taxpayers' money.
This laissez-faire, minimalist approach has also been allowed to creep into the bureaucracy at city hall. Lip service may be given to attendance management, but the facts set out in the auditor-general's report, detailing sick leave abuse, speak for themselves.
One wonders what the 174.6 staff in the city's human resources department are doing to earn their keep ? The auditor-general says much of the sick leave is of the Friday/Monday variety. This in itself should be a red flag to any supervisor or manager worth his/her salt. Seasoned HR people will tell you that someone who consistently displays a pattern of sickness on Fridays or Mondays or both has a problem with substance abuse. It likely means you have a boozer on your hands who takes a sick day on Friday to get a head start on the weekend's drinking and needs a sick day on Monday to recover from the hangover and probably is not a 100% performer when on the job.
Seasoned HR people will tell you that in addition to "assisting employees who have problems with sick leave", a good attendance management program should be set up in such a way as to help the employer constructively dismiss the employee who has breached the employment contract by constantly being absent.
Citizen Ellie never ceases to be amazed at the number of people working in the public sector -- a majority of whom are union members with gold-plated sick leave coverage enshrined in their collective agreements -- who see sick leave as an entitlement rather than wage insurance to cover absence from work when one is really and truly sick.
There was a point in time where employees in the federal service could accumulate sick leave which would be paid out at time of retirement. When this practice was abolished, Citizen Ellie's late husband, a federal public servant, had some 360 unused sick days in his bank. Did he lose out ? Those who regularly take their 1.4 sick days per month and use them to visit Aunt Miniie in Buckingham or for some other frivolous purpose would likely say he was a chump for not taking time off.
An attendance management program will never work unless how well/poorly a supervisor/manager is managing his/her employees' attendance becomes part of the supervisor/mnager's performance appraisal and the supervisor/manager's salary is based on how well he/she is performing the job.
It's not that hard to set up, presuming the city has a Human Resource Information System (HRIS) in place. (PeopleSoft is the one Citizen Ellie is most familiar with.) A good HRIS can be used to track absenteeism on a daily/monthly, annual basis. Monthly reports should be provided to the supervisor, the manager, the manager's manager, the city manager, the mayor and councillors. Reviewing absenteeism on a regular basis makes more sense than useless discussion of tanning parlors and whether Shannon Tweed needs a day in her honor. Errant employees should be tracked, sick leave documented, warnings issued and eventually enough evidence is gathered to justify a constructive dismissal.
The real problem at city hall is that no one gets fired. Apparently everyone who leaves gets a golden handshake. Severance is provided even when employees are "invited" to leave for failing to perfom their jobs. Take this example, uncovered by the auditor-general: an employee who spent 95% of her time on the internet texting family and friends and 5% of her time actually working at the job for which she was being paid is kissed goodbye with nine months' salary. What really galls is the fact this person was replaced. Why ? Obviously there wasn't enough work so why hire a replacement ?
HR department staff can't be overworked handling grievances and arbitrations involving employees who've been disciplined since it's apparent that no one -- even the most egregious offenders such as the nine who used sick leave and claimed overtime while moonlighting for their manager's little business on the side -- is ever disciplined. At city hall, the monkeys are running the zoo; the employees are in control; and the taxpayers just pay and pay and pay !
Does This Mean I'll Get An Answer ?
There's new blood in the city's communications department. A triumvirate of seasoned journalists has been hired to put the proper "spin" on doings at city hall.
Chris, Derek and Patrick have their work cut out for them. Making the current council look any better than the sow's ear that it is will be a task of Herculean proportions.
Citizen Ellie has one question: does this mean she will finally get a response to her e-mail query sent months ago to the communications department asking for the number of Ottawa seniors who are currently taking advantage of the city's property tax deferral program.
And Citizen Ellie has this supplementary question: will Chris, Derek and Patrick spend any time educating councillors on just how important it is to answer e-mails from their constituents -- and can Citizen Ellie soon expect a response from Councillor Jacques Legendre re his positions on the city's censorship of the Ottawa Taxpayer Advisory Group's bus ads and a proposed sustainability summit ?
New posts usually on Fridays