Study: Operations needs leadership
Operations department director Crockett Moreno, a veteran of 32 years with the city, will retire Nov. 30.
That announcement, made at the beginning of a workshop on Tuesday, Nov. 13, adds urgency to City Manager Michael Kovacs' efforts to reorganize the department and to find a new director. The workshop was called to discuss Kovacs' recommendations on how to do those tasks.
Kovacs' plan calls for hiring a director to oversee departmental operations and breaking the work force into three teams. One of those teams would work primarily on the beach; a second team would have responsibility for other city infrastructure; and the third team would handle city vehicle maintenance. Also, Kovacs wants to improve records keeping in the new public works department.
Council members heard reviews Tuesday by three consultants of recommendations they made to Kovacs on the department.
Mike Keller, who helped the city find and hire Police Chief Sam Russell in 2005, said he found the operations department "severely lacking in leadership."
"There's a big distinction between leadership and management," Keller told the council. "In leadership, you're looking for people who are looking five years down the road and can see what you'll need. Management are those who take care of the day to day processes, who make sure things get done."
Keller said he found what he called a "political undertone" in the department, which he urged the council to address.
Asked by Councilman Charles Bujan what he meant, Keller responded that some members of the operations department believe some council members are out to get certain city employees, including Moreno and former Police Chief Don Perkins.
(Asked Wednesday why he chose to retire, Moreno said, "I had no choice." He declined to comment further until after his actual retirement.)
"They seem like a pretty good team, as disorganized as they might be," Keller said. "I think with Mr. Kovacs' plan you can transition into a pretty good format."
Consultant Bill Hennings, who once oversaw the Corpus Christi Public Works Department as assistant city manager, noted that he saw a lot of interest among the council in streets and drainage.
Drainage, he said, is the last municipal program to be brought up to date.
"Today, they've even changed the name of it to stormwater," he said. "There's a big national program on stormwater management that you'll be hearing more about. It started with cities over 200,000 (population), then cities over 10,000, and I expect within two to three years it will encompass everyone."
But Hennings warned the council against hiring a new director who operates just like the city always has. A new director, he said, must be able to maintain relationships with state and federal agencies, because those agencies have more and more control over what cities do.
"I get a weekly newsletter from (the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) with what they did that week," he said. "Usually the headline is something like, 'Commission fines a total of $32 million.' You don't want to go there, and the way to avoid going there is to have working relationships with the local offices of those agencies."
Al Ellis told the council he took a different approach from the other two consultants. Ellis, a professor at Del Mar College and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, said the operations department operates with a "get it done" instead of a "prove it got done" philosophy.
"They simply don't have a system of record keeping or a manual, but it works," he said. "They have outdated job requirements -- they're not even sure where the policy, safety and procedure manuals are. I recommend an old triedand true method of scheduling, cost analysis and record keeping."
Ellis said he also supported the city's consideration of impact fees, a system that would mean developers would help bear the cost of added streets and roadways caused by the developments. And he said he wasn't sure that Mustang Beach Airport and Dennis Dreyer Municipal Marina are paying their own way.
Kovacs told the council he now wanted input on what he should be looking for in a new director of public works. He said he leans toward someone like Parks and Recreation Director Gary Mysorski, citing that department's ability to remain organized and its good supervision.
"There are people who still want to work, still want to make a little money … so there's really a wide range of qualifications," he said.
"This is like having a blank sheet of paper and a chance to do things right," said Councilman Keith Donley. "(Kovacs') idea that we need an engineer -- maybe we do, maybe we can find somebody who wants to move to the coast, but I'm looking further down the road than next week or next month."
Councilman Mike Hall urged the council not to concentrate too much on whether a candidate had a college degree, saying the city needs not only someone with common sense, but someone with administrative skills as well.
"Michael (Kovacs), when he redid the police department, did an excellent job and we didn't have to hold his hand," Hall recalled. "I think he's capable of doing it."
"I see (hiring) someone who has both common sense and professional sense. We want both. We already have the common sense approach, and it doesn't work," Bujan said.
Kovacs also suggested, in an earlier report to the council, that the city might consider an interim director. That, he said, is because this time of year is not a good time to find people to change jobs permanently.
"We'll actually need two jobs, because as we reorganize, we'll need a director and we'll also need a supervisor for one of the teams," he pointed out. That's because Moreno has said he will retire at the end of the month; Moreno had been one of the choices to head a public works team of workers, but his retirement will leave that position also vacant.
Bujan said he likes the reorganization plan, but it doesn't go far enough.
"You need to push all the way to the bottom," he said. "We're putting in some management, but we're not doing anything to address the troops that do the work. I'd like to have a phase three, and look at what these supervisors' plans are. We're skimming the surface, but we're not going down far enough."
Bujan also said he didn't like Kovacs ' idea of putting the best workers all on one of the two proposed teams.
"I don't think that's a good approach," he said. "You need to mix your employees so some of the bad ones learn from the good ones. You're setting team B up for failure this way."
"We're getting into micro-management when we start telling him how to do that," Councilman Mike Hall warned.
"At the expense of interfering with management, the one thing you don't have that you're going to need is a buy-in from employees who are there," Bujan said. "I have the feeling that they don't trust council. They think they're going to be fired, that the council is out to get the maintenance department. Part of that is because of the South Jetty's report in June. We decided to have a workshop and invited Crockett. The purpose was to examine issues. It came out that we were micromanaging, and that's simply not true. We weren't out to get him, we just needed information, and it came out totally different in the public's view, and created a bad perception with the department. I don't know how, but we need to fix it somehow, because it's absolutely not true."
Bujan said Wednesday he was referring to an editorial in the July 5 South Jetty. Written by Editor Mary Henkel Judson, the editorial said in part, "At a workshop on the operations department on Thursday, June 28, micromanagement was in full swing, even predicated with the words, 'I don't mean to micromanage, but …', as Bujan proceeded to inquire about the hourly work schedule of the department. His interest and input are well-intended and appreciated, but misplaced. The conversation should be held with the city manager, not taken up by the city council."
In his recommendations to Kovacs, Keller wrote, "The employees obviously have some fear from city council which creates a very unhealthy work environment. It might be good to review with council what the city charter says and that involving themselves in personnel matters is a violation and could expose the city to potential liability."
"What people perceive is what they believe, it doesn't matter what the truth is," Keller told the council at the Tuesday workshop. "It's not their responsibility at the operations department, it's the responsibility of the people sitting here tonight. You might want to consider what options are available for working with employees and getting everyone on the same page. Those people there have some really good ideas. When you get them together and show them that what they say has value, no matter what their job is, then you can bring a cohesive team together."
Ellis added, "I appreciate the comments about micromanagement. I've been around these (operations department workers), and they're skittish. I think this can be rectified. I think what you've said tonight will give them some peace of mind."
Bujan and Donley disagreed over whether to ask operations department workers to a workshop with the council and seek their opinions.
"I think if you bring people in and say tell us your thoughts, they'll tell you what they think you want to hear," Donley said.
"I don't believe that," said Bujan.
"I think we're here because we've told the city manager we have a problem with the department and to bring us a plan, and he did," said Councilman Keith McMullin.
"No, you're not going down far enough (in the organization)," Bujan insisted.
"How far down you going to go?" Donley asked. "You going to go to every employee?"
"There needs to be a phase three," Bujan said. "After they come on board, we need to see what those plans are."
The council was not scheduled to take any action Tuesday; it only received Kovacs' report, heard from the consultants, and discussed the matter. Nothing further was scheduled on the reorganization when the council adjourned.