Friday, January 29, 2010

"Employee Morale in Tough Economic Times"

Recently, my Assistant wrote a paper about employee morale in the City of Fontana. The paper talks about a number of non-salary strategies to improve morale during a time the City finds it necessary to continue to do more with less. I have attached the paper here for this week’s blog posting.

Employee Morale in Tough Economic Times

Improving employee morale is an ongoing challenge in any workplace, even during good economic times. Now with the current economic crisis, maintaining high employee morale is much more important when asking people to do more with less. Creativity is required when the budget is tight and increasing salaries is not an option. Surveys indicate that salaries are not the end all of an employee's well being; in a well run organization, job satisfaction is derived from more than compensation.

My employer, the City of Fontana, last year eliminated 50 positions through layoffs, eliminating vacancies and early retirements. This year, all employee groups have been asked to forgo the cost of living increase. Employees are being asked to do more with less and, under such difficult circumstances, it is challenging for some to keep an optimistic outlook. The City of Fontana strives to meet employee needs and the management staff has developed several programs to help boost employee confidence and create positive attitudes.

One such program is the "Step Up to Wellness" employee wellness plan. Poor eating habits, lack of exercise and mounting stress play a large role in an employee's morale. To help counter the affects of ill health, we have kicked off the “Step Up To Wellness” program. This includes educational lectures, recreational demonstrations, a walking program, cooking demonstrations, corporate discounts to fitness centers and departmental challenges.

The purpose of the program is to improve employees' well-being with information about the benefits of nutritious eating, exercise in a fun interactive environment, and tips for stress relief. Nutritional lectures and cooking demonstrations teach employees which foods are actually nutritionally beneficial. For example, one lecture talks about the affects of sugar on the body and how eating too much of it can foster a negative attitude. Another lecture is about the benefits of sleep and gives employees tips for restful sleep, which directly affects a person’s outlook on life.

Another part of the program focuses on exercise and how it fosters a positive attitude. The program also features weekly competitions (e.g., a torch run, checkers, basketball, bowling, volleyball, racquetball, tug-a-war, relay obstacle course, floor hockey, golf and potato sack races) between teams of employees to build camaraderie. The entire "Step Up to Wellness" program lets employees know that management cares about them and their health, happiness and well being and stresses the fun and support that comes from being part of a team.

Another benefit the city offers to employees is a flexible work schedule. Typically, organizations have unwavering work hours; however, in Fontana we understand the need for flexibility due to childcare and educational needs. Employees, with the exception of those who work the public counter or phones, can work a four day-ten hour schedule, a five day-eight hour schedule, or a nine day-eighty hour schedule. This gives employees the chance to choose the best schedule for their lifestyle.

The City Manager understands that a happy employee is a productive worker. We have many working mothers who enjoy the ability to take their children to school in the morning and then work later in the day. Some employees attend school in the evening and a flexible schedule allows them to arrive early and leave early. This flexibility is a huge morale booster and employees are grateful for the consideration given to their needs. Fontana also encourages open communication between employees and management and recognizes employee accomplishments. The City Manager has several philosophies that encourage employees with ideas to be a part of the future of Fontana. Open and honest communication is his #1 rule. The City Manager schedules several meetings a year to discuss budget issues, capital projects and community issues with employees in all departments. He asks the employees for ideas to improve the working environment.

He recognizes years of service with an employee breakfast at which he thanks the employees for their dedication to the residents of our community. Twice yearly, he gathers Department Heads to make and serve a breakfast and lunch to employees to express appreciation for their work efforts. Halloween features a fun competition between departments with an annual costume and skit contest. His motto of “Do your job, but have fun along the way” is a phrase of his that resonates through the organization.

Valuing employee’s health, allowing flexible schedules, open communication, and employee appreciation are just a few of the ways the City of Fontana strives to meet employees' needs and increase morale in the workplace. The City also offers education reimbursement, counseling services, retirement preparation, benefit fairs and many other programs for employees. These services and programs are available to all employees from account clerks to public works technicians to police officers.

As a result, Fontana has little employee turnover, and I attribute this to their job satisfaction. Management understands the amount of hours dedicated to a career and strives to create a family atmosphere and genuine team spirit. Many times I look around this city with quiet joy, knowing that my small part in making the community a better place to live, work, and play is appreciated. Even in these tough economic times with fewer staff people and no raises, employees feel respected and valued and continue to work hard because of that morale.

Amy Colbrunn
Assistant to the City Manager

Community Outreach - City Website

Community Member Question:

I must say the city does a great job on trying to inform the residents, but I have noticed that some residents take videos of special events at council meetings and others that I have spoke to have tried to see their child’s event when the cable program KFONTV comes on at the end of that week. I have found it interesting that some do not know that the meetings are on line at and that one can click on date and then topic to forward to the point of interest. Having the forward bar is a great time saving tool also. I have found it useful to download the segment or meeting of my choice to save time to review past comments. I have read that their will be improvements on the city site. What kind of new features will be added?

City Manager Response:

Thank you for your comments and interest in the City’s website. The video streaming features that you are referring to are indeed unique to our website. We added this feature to provide community members with the ability to watch the videos in the comfort of their own home.

The City is in the process of a major overhaul of the City’s website. This is not just a project to improve the cosmetics of the way our website looks, but to make a fundamental change in the way we use the Internet to provide information and services to our citizens and business community.

Some of the visible changes to the current website you will begin seeing in late spring, early summer are:

· A new look
· User friendly navigational approach
· How do I find... and “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)”
· A list of the most popular pages/areas on the site
· Department and consolidated calendars
· Improved search engine
· Process Centers detailing all the steps for citizen services

Behind the scenes, we are automating some of the web page design and development and the approval process for getting it published to the City website. This sophisticated “Content Management System” will make it easier and faster for departments to get information onto their web pages regarding city activities and services. It also sets the stage for us to be able to offer some services directly through the website so community members can access these services from home or work.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Compensation and Health Benefits

Community Member Question:

With the shortfalls in many cities budgets, some have blamed the employees income and pension plans to be part of the problem. Many articles have been put out on pension plans about government employees pensions, well beyond what the majority receives. It has been my experience that most employees have a hard time affording to live in the community they serve. I have attached a link to the employee salary. Can you comment on what the average employee makes after 30 years of service earning between the 45,000 to 60,000 income and what medical contribution they receive as well at point of retirement?

City Manager Response:

Thank you for the question. The response regarding average compensation and health benefits varies depending on whether the individual is a member of a public safety unit, when they started working for the City of Fontana and their age upon retirement.

At the risk of oversimplifying, an employee with a salary of $50,000 per year would retire after 30 years with $45,000/year if they were a member of Public Safety and $37,500/year if they were non-public safety.

If the employee started with the City after July, 1990, they would receive no retiree health benefits from the city. If they started working prior to July, 1990, they would receive a retiree health benefit amount to reimburse the actual costs of health insurance premiums, not to exceed basic Kaiser HMO rates.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Combatting Grafitti is a Community Effort

Community Member Question:

Last New Years a Council Member suggested to make a resolution to call in Graffiti. Graffiti is one of the most negative images in every community, that is why I have 350-Gone (4663) or 911 for graffiti in progress in my cell phone. It is my belief that the intimidation of Taggers/Gangs devaluate homes, make the community feel unsafe, deface much of the public and private property and at times escalate to harmful situations. This should not be taken lightly and should be a joint effort on all of us in the community to take part to combat this crime by calling it in every where it is seen. It is not my position to have anyone approach such persons. With such harmful and costly actions as graffiti, how does the city deal with reducing these actions?

City Manager Response:

The City of Fontana recognizes the effect that graffiti has on the community as a whole. Graffiti vandalism is not only a quality of life issue for our residents, it also impacts our local business community, and can create a negative impression for people visiting and traveling through Fontana.

We have dedicated many resources towards the removal of graffiti. Citizens that see graffiti are encouraged to call the City’s Graffiti Hotline at 909-350-GONE (4663) or send an e-mail to English and Spanish employees are available to assist community members with the filing of their reports.

The City Council established a graffiti response process that requires our graffiti removal crew to remove 80% of all reported graffiti within 24 hours, with no reported graffiti remaining longer than 72 hours. The City’s graffiti removal crew consists of six full time employees operating seven days a week. We have found that quickly removing the graffiti is one of the best deterrents.

Two other notable resources the City uses to combat graffiti are the Graffiti Removal Waiver and the Graffiti Tracker Database. Through the use of a Graffiti Removal Waiver, residents and business owners can give City crews permission to enter privately owned property for the purposes of painting over graffiti. While the responsibility for the appearance and upkeep of private property ultimately belongs to the property owner, this waiver helps to provide another avenue of quick response in fighting the graffiti problem as a whole. For more information on signing a waiver for your residence or business, contact the Public Works Department at (909) 350-6760.

The City also recently enlisted the services of Graffiti Tracker Inc. This company creates a searchable database of graffiti incidents recorded by our graffiti removal crews. Each crew member takes pictures of the graffiti they remove daily using a GPS (Global Positioning System) enabled digital camera. The pictures and the location of the graffiti are uploaded to the Graffiti Tracker database at the end of the day. Police Department personnel can use this database to track prolific taggers working throughout the City. The documented graffiti incidences in the database also aid in the prosecution of taggers once they are apprehended.

It is my belief that the members of this community are one of the best resources to help us continue reducing graffiti in our City.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"The Best Politics is Local Politics"

Community Member Question:

I have been rather surprised in some of the comments and actions taken by the city against the larger governing bodies. I find it difficult at times to understand how the city gets funding of grants from the Federal Government but seem to have some conflict at times and seem to be at conflict with the State Government but seems to work well with the County Government body. I would have thought they are all working for the same goal, to serve its citizens. Can you comment on what the other Government bodies roles are to the residents locally?

City Manager Response:

At the risk of over simplifying a very complicated issue I have found that the more local the legislative body is, the more in tune they are to the needs of a community. School Districts and City Councils focus on the needs of the community better because they rub shoulders with the people they represent on a daily basis. They are not in Sacramento or Washington D.C., they shop at the same supermarkets, drive the same streets and take their kids to the same programs the residents of the community do. This accessibility leads to better focus on community needs which leads to better communication and ultimately more informed decision making.

The more removed or larger the government organization is, the broader the scope of issues is that are dealt with. Layer on top of this structure partisan politics and districts based representation and the decision making that takes place is often a step removed from the reality of the community. I am a firm believer that the best politics is local politics. In part, this is why I enjoy what I do so much.