City seeks to boost morale of employees

In the midst of tackling a $1.68 million budget shortfall, Jefferson City officials are trying to address the morale of city employees.

Tonight, the City Council is expected to approve budget cuts to erase that shortfall through reductions in services, as well as savings from not filling vacant city positions.

On Tuesday, the city announced the resignations of Public Works Director Roger Schwartze and Communications Manager Michelle Gleba.

At a council meeting Monday night to address the budget shortfall, Gleba’s position had been called into question by one council member who asked why it was necessary to have someone employed to manage social media.

Schwartze said he resigned to protect his employees from any possible layoffs, which at the time of his resignation, he said might be unavoidable.

Those resignations, the ongoing budget discussions and the issue of employee morale led the City Council to hold a special meeting Thursday where the council members sought to assuage any concerns of staff about furloughs or layoffs.

As city officials tried to deal with the budget shortfall, looking at cuts to every department, there were brief mentions of layoffs and furloughs, though neither was ever offered officially as a way to make cuts.

Mayor Eric Struemph said, after he received word of the resignations of Schwartze and Gleba, he met with each department head, partially to see if any others were considering a similar course of action. Struemph said he has no reason to believe any other department heads will consider resignation.

After the special meeting Thursday, Struemph said he believed the morale of employees was “improving literally by the minute.”

Struemph said it is not uncommon to discuss furloughs or layoffs when dealing with a budget shortfall, but it’s tougher on government employees because they have to read about it in the local news.

City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus said while discussing the budget shortfall, some employees may have gotten the wrong impression that layoffs or furloughs would be needed.

In a letter to city staff dated March 6, Nickolaus wrote that though he believed furloughs would not be required, “I feel it is important to outline how these would work if they become necessary.” Nickolaus goes on to say that if furloughs become necessary, he would begin with the highest paid employee, which is Nickolaus, and “work down the list as needed.”

Second Ward Councilman Shawn Schulte said Thursday’s meeting surely boosted city morale that was lowered by the budget discussions.

“Uncertainty deflates morale,” Schulte said.

Second Ward Councilman Rick Mihalevich said he believed the council tried its best to bolster morale by telling city employees no furloughs or layoffs would be part of the budget cuts.

Fifth Ward Councilman Larry Henry said he hopes morale continues to improve after the tumultuous few weeks of budget discussions.

“I just want to assure the city staff that we’re doing all we can,” Henry said.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll said she felt strongly throughout the process that the needed savings could be found without the need for layoffs.

“I just hope we never came across as wanting to cut staff,” Carroll said. “We need to be open and clear that that’s not what we intended.”

Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner said morale has been under stress in the last few weeks, but it’s important to remember that city services can not be delivered without staff. Scrivner noted that Schwartze resigned at least in part to protect his employees from any potential layoffs.

“It was a self-sacrificing thing, which is admirable on his part,” Scrivner said of Schwartze’s decision.

But Third Ward Councilman Bryan Pope said he was disappointed with Schwartze’s resignation and the stated reason for it, because layoffs should be something a manager can handle when needed. To be able to make the toughest calls, Pope said, is why managers receive higher salaries.

“We expect that of our managers,” Pope said. “Nobody wants to fire people, I don’t like that either.”

Nickolaus said morale has been improving steadily since the special meeting Thursday and, as the council looks to approve the necessary budget cuts, employee morale will only get better.

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