Favoritism, Sexism, Inefficiency Spelled Out in Report
MONTROSE COUNTY – Following an independent audit of the Montrose County Road and Bridge Department, which found its working environment is unsatisfactory and has led to “terrible employee morale,” Montrose County officials are vowing to take steps to correct the findings.
County Technical Services, Inc., Montrose County’s insurance carrier, conducted interviews with 44 Montrose County public works employees between April 9 and 18. Most of the employees interviewed felt that the department is managed poorly, that it has an unsatisfactory work environment and that favoritism exists within the road and bridge management.
Of the 44 employees interviewed, 39 felt that there is favoritism in the management of the department. This included unequal performance standards for employees, bonuses that are based on management friendships, and that hiring standards are not the same for everyone.
According to the 10-page evaluation report, a majority of employees voiced their opinion that Fleet Maintenance Supervisor David Laursen “is not qualified and has little to no heavy equipment knowledge, and was hired as a political favor.” Comments stated that Laursen is Public Works Director Brian Wilson’s “friend.” And that Laursen’s “interview process was not the same as all others that applied for the position,” the report states.
Those interviewed, for the most part, said that if you are one of the supervisor’s or Wilson's "favorite people," you had nothing to worry about, "but if you weren't, you got the dirty jobs and were blamed for things that weren't your fault."
Last September, the Montrose Board of County Commissioners denied any political favoritism after Laursen was hired. Laursen is the current chairman of the Montrose County Republicans, was Commissioner David White’s campaign manager during his first campaign for commissioner more than four years ago, and is owner of a Montrose automotive service and repair shop.
Evaluators noted concerns that Laursen is purchasing tires for the Road and Bridge Department from his private auto shop and that the “interviewees felt this practice was a conflict of interest in itself.” Employees stated that invoices submitted to Road and Bridge from the private tire business “had an additional $8.00 per tire ‘Government Process Fee’ added on the cost of the tires.”
Perhaps the “gravest situation” found in the report is the conduct of a foreman toward a female employee. A majority of crew members said they observed the treatment toward this female employee and and that the foreman “talks down to her and treats her degradingly, and they feel it is mostly because of her gender and not because of her performance on the job.”
Of those interviewed in the survey, 89 percent of the respondents said they felt the department is inefficient and that “additional tax dollars being received are being used by the Director to create his empire, and [he] is spending the additional monies received to hire additional administrative staff.”
“This is a definitive moment for Montrose County,” said County Manager Rick Eckert. “We could not ignore the concerns presented by CTSI, and are moving to correct these issues for our constituents. We are grateful to the citizens of Montrose County for their patience throughout this process, and ask for their consideration as we move forward to build a county that serves citizens in an efficient and economical manner.”
Eckert went on to say that he will be taking on the set of issues one at a time “to deal with them, whatever form that may take.
“It’s not going to be a long process, most of the issues can be solved quickly,” he said. “As bad as it sounds, there is very few major issues that really need to be resolved. I have the best staff I have ever worked with and we have issues that have to be addressed. The commissioners wanted it brought to light and I commend them for that."
The internal survey was initiated by Eckert after one commissioner had received a number of concerns regarding the department.
Commissioner Ron Henderson said the county has made a lot of progress and that it will work through these issues to make positive and lasting changes.
“Very honestly, the human condition, historically throughout time, has proven that we have the ability to have a good deal of faults,” Henderson said. “In fact the Bible speaks to it very eloquently. So we need to, whenever we have a problem, address it and change it. We will investigate it and make the proper adjustments.”
THE FULL TRANSCRIPT OF THE MONTROSE COUNTY ROAD & BRIDGE EMPLOYEES' EVALUATION:
1) Employees Evaluated within the Road and Bridge Department:
The evaluations took place in the Aspen Conference Room at the south campus (Tri-State building) where I felt the employees could feel they had a private setting and could talk freely. All of those interviewed were told that their conversation would be confidential and only issues would be reported, but not who reported those issues. The interviews took place April 9th through April 18th, 2013. The 44 interviewees included five road foreman, two administrative staff personnel and the road and bridge superintendent.
2) Employee favoritism:
Of the 44 interviewees, 39 of those interviewed felt that there is favoritism from the management of Road and Bridge. The majority of those interviewed felt that favoritism is practiced throughout the department with the favoritism coming from the top management of the Road and Bridge department (Public Works Director) down to the foreman. The following are the types of favoritism that were voiced:
1. Performance standards are not the same for all employees in the same class; wages are not equitable for employees with the same seniority or performing the same job.
2. Bonuses are based on who is a friend of management, not for the job that is performed.
3. Hiring standard are not the same for everyone, it all depends on who you know.
4. The majority of those interviewed stated that “It is not what you know or do, but who you know in top management to advance or receive the higher wages in the department”.
Specific instances of favoritism that were voiced by a majority of those interviewed during the process were:
The fleet maintenance supervisor is not qualified and has little to no heavy equipment knowledge and was hired as a political favor and is the Public Works Director’s friend. His interview process was not the same as all others that applied for the position, but a closed door meeting between him and the Public Works Director. The County is required to bring back the past retired maintenance supervisor on a fee basis to specify and buy heavy equipment because the fleet maintenance supervisor’s lack of knowledge to do so. During the supervisor’s tenure, he has disposed of valuable equipment and parts because of his lack of knowledge of the value and purpose of these parts (augers to the laydown machine, specialized equipment to clean under guardrails, etc.).
It was voiced numerous times and observed by those interviewees that if you were friends with the Public Works Director, your job is secure no matter what you do; but if you’re not one of his favorites, your job or grade is in continual jeopardy.
The consensus is that the only reason a certain construction foreman is working for Montrose County is that he and the Public Works Director established a friendship when they previously worked together for the City of Delta, and the foreman is doing work on the Public Works Director's personal property in Delta County. The feeling of those interviewed is that the foreman is not qualified to perform his duties as a construction foreman and treats his crew poorly and discriminates against those he doesn’t care for, especially females.
A majority of the employees stated there are two females on the construction crews and they are treated totally different. One is treated as though she can do no wrong and is given special treatment by her foreman (foreman’s pet) and the other is yelled at and treated poorly by her foreman and the superintendent, and this practice is tolerated and promoted by the top management of the Road and Bridge department.
The interviewees for the most part, voiced that if you are one of the supervisor's or Public Works Director's favorite people that you had nothing to worry about, but if you weren’t you got the dirty jobs and were blamed for things that weren’t your fault.
3) Employee nepotism policy ignored by the Montrose County Road and Bridge management team:
The current nepotism policy in the Montrose County Personnel Management Program, Policies and Procedures Manual adopted on January 3, 2012 and revised September 4, 2012 states in section 2.11 Nepotism Policy the following:
A. The employment of relatives in the same department of an organization may cause serious conflicts and problems with favoritism and employee morale. In addition to claims of partiality in treatment at work, personal conflicts from outside the work environment can be carried into day-to-day working relationships. For the purposes of this policy, a “relative” is a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, first cousin, or corresponding in-law, “step” or “foster” relation.
B. Department heads and elected officials are encouraged to not hire relatives of persons currently employed by Montrose County to work in the same department or work team. Relatives of persons currently employed by Montrose County may be hired only if they meet the following criteria: 3
1. One relative may not supervise or exercise authority or disciplinary action over another relative. One relative may not audit, receive, or be entrusted with monies received or handled by the other relative.
2. One relative may not have access to the other’s confidential information. If the relative relationship is established after employment, all reasonable steps will be taken to bring the relationship into compliance with the terms of this section, including asking the employees to find other employment if necessary.
The Board of County Commissioner’s adopted policy has not been followed and continues to be ignored by the Road and Bridge Department. On Monday, April 8, 2013, the Public Works Director, stated to me that the Board waived this policy requirement for a previous foreman, who the Public Works Director appointed as the Road and Bridge Superintendent approximately two years ago.
A majority of those interviewed stated that the Road and Bridge Superintendent treats the relatives under his supervision more favorably than those that are not related to him. This includes duties, wages, bonuses, newer equipment and general treatment as a whole. One foreman, the Superintendent's brother-in-law, was the person that most interviewees stated received preferential treatment in many ways. Also, it was stated that many other relatives of management have been hired and are continually working or being hired for Road and Bridge positions with the blessing of the Public Works Director.
Many employees stated that they didn’t understand why hiring relatives of certain supervisors was permissible; but when an applicant had a relative that worked within the department or County, they were told by top management that it was not permissible to hire them because they were related to another person already working with the County, even though they would not be the supervisor of the applicant or vice versa. They felt the nepotism policy was being discriminatorily applied throughout the department depending who you know or who was your friend or relative.
4) Hostile work environment within Montrose County Road and Bridge:
Of those interviewed, 64% felt that the Road and Bridge Department had a hostile work environment because their supervisor was creating a negative work environment that they felt was created to make it miserable enough for them to quit their job. A hostile work environment exists when an employee experiences workplace harassment and fears going to work because of the offensive, intimidating, or oppressive atmosphere generated by the harasser.
The legal definition states that to be a hostile work environment, the following must normally occur:
1. A worker must be subjected to the behavior because of race, religion, color, national origin, pregnancy, disability, sex or age (40 to 70).
2. The employer is aware of the behavior and takes no action to stop it.
After gathering information from the interviewees, the gravest situation that is occurring within the Road and Bridge department is the conduct of a foreman toward a female employee, who happens to works on his crew. The majority of the other crew members under this foreman and other employees that have observed his treatment toward her stated that he talks down to her and treats her degradingly and they feel it is mostly because of her gender and not because of the performance of the job she performs. A large majority of those interviewed feel she is a hard worker and does a good job. It was also brought to my attention that some of her male co-workers have complained to management as to the way the foreman treats her.
5) Equitable Employee Compensation:
Many of those interviewed feel that the compensation received by many of the employees that work within the Montrose County Road & Bridge Department is governed by who you know rather than receiving the proper pay for the jobs performed. When asking interviewees if they felt favoritism was an issue within their department concerning pay or advancement, there was a high consensus of those interviewed that felt favoritism was a major factor and is a definite problem within the department’s pay structure.
6) Do you feel that equipment maintenance is being performed adequately?
Most of those that were interviewed felt that maintenance has been lacking since a new supervisor took over the fleet management department. Equipment operators voiced that they can no longer talk to the mechanics to tell them what the problems are. They can only talk to the maintenance scheduler. The operators fill out a pre-operation check sheet and a post- operation check sheet, but according to the operators, these reports are not handled consistently. It was voiced that the new supervisor at times orders the wrong parts for the equipment because of his lack of familiarity with the equipment. I was told that truck drivers are instructed to drive vehicles that have tire problems or the lights or horn are not working properly and the maintenance department demands that they drive them and fleet management will fix the problem later.
7) Management of the Road and Bridge Department:
Of those that were interviewed, 89% feel that Road and Bridge is being run poorly. Most of those employees feel that the additional tax dollars being received are being used by the Director to create his empire and is spending the additional monies received to hire additional administrative staff. It was stated that even though the Road and Bridge Department has somewhere between 3 to 4 in-house engineers (it was not clear how many); the department has between 5 and 7 outside engineering firms on retainer to perform engineering duties. Those interviewed stated that the Road and Bridge Department has more engineers than it has mechanics to keep the equipment running and maintained. The field road maintenance employees stated that they don’t have the funds to maintain the existing roads that they were previously maintaining because most of the funding is going to construction projects and to increasing the administration and office staff. It was stated that the actual road maintenance crew has decreased from 22 employees to 14 employees since the additional sales tax funding was approved by the voters. The majority of those interviewees felt that the funds available for the Road and Bridge operations need to be spent on the roads instead of expanding the administrative and office staff. Most of those interviewed feel that top management of the Road and Bridge department has delegated to the point that it does not know what is taking place in the field let alone the total operation of the department. The strong feeling among the majority of those interviewed is that the Public Works Director is more concerned about being the boss than knowing what is taking place within the Road and Bridge operation. The feeling is that because of the lack of oversight, there is no accountability for the top management of the Road and Bridge department.
The four most telling statements that I heard from those interviewed were:
1. “I love my job and working for Montrose County Road and Bridge, but the last couple of years I have dreaded coming to work and I can’t wait to leave and go home.”
2. “When the economy improves and construction jobs become available, the majority of us that work at the Road and Bridge department will leave to work elsewhere because of the working conditions.”
3. “I use to be proud to say I worked for Montrose County Road and Bridge department, but lately when someone asks me where I work, I hesitate in saying Montrose County Road and Bridge.”
4. 100% of those interviewed stated that morale is terrible within the department and has been getting worse over the last couple of years. A majority of these employees stated that they don’t see it getting any better without the Public Works Director and the Road and Bridge Supervisor being gone.
8) Personnel Handbook:
The Montrose County Personnel Handbook that I received from the County Administration was last adopted in January 3, 2012 and revised on September 4, 2012. A majority of the employees that I interviewed stated that they have not received or been advised of any revisions to the handbook and most said the last handbook they received was when they were hired and they haven’t received or even seen the most recently adopted Personnel Handbook.
9) Road and Bridge’s safety program:
Most of those interviewed feel that the safety program within the Road and Bridge program is nonfunctional or as they said “a joke”. It was voiced by some that if a safety meeting was to take place, the employees had to conduct it because the supervisor was not around. The Road and Bridge safety official stays mostly in her office and is not aware of the field activities or if safe work practices are being followed or not. It was voiced to me of one instance that the safety officer came from her office to complain that an employee in the yard area was not wearing their safety shoes while she was wearing non-safety tennis shoes. The general consensus from those interviewed was that the safety officer was not qualified to perform her job as safety officer and the only reason she is at Road and Bridge is because of favoritism from the Public Works Director.
The majority of the crew members on one foreman's crew stated that he complained when the crew in his absence, was cutting back a slope on a pipe installation project so the banks wouldn’t slide in on the crew down in the ditch while they were working, which is standard safety practice. When he saw what they were doing he was upset because of the action of the crew. He yelled at the crew because he was more concerned about the cost of the additional excavation. The crew stated he was upset about the additional cost of excavation rather than the safety of the crew working in the trench. I was also informed by his crew that he told the crew to sign a falsified sheet stating that he had conducted a safety meeting, even though he did not have one. All but one member of the crew signed the sheet for fear of being fired if they didn’t. The majority of his crew stated that safety is not an important factor on work that he supervises.
10) Other issues or concerns that employees brought up that they had concerns about or felt that was not proper in the Road and Bridge department:
It was voiced to me that the fleet maintenance supervisor is purchasing tires for the Road and Bridge department from his privately owned tire store. The interviewees felt this practice was a conflict of interest in itself. When it was discovered that the invoices that were submitted to the County Road and Bridge department for payment from his tire company had an additional $8.00 per tire “Government Process Fee” added on the cost of the tires, there were further questions. Those who caught this, questioned this additional charge and what it was. More than a few of the employees who discovered this told me that other vendors did not charge this “Government Process Fee” and with the additional charge by the employee's business, the purchased tires were costing more than the competitor’s quoted price.
Many of those interviewed stated that they didn’t feel that it was fair and equitable that many of the administrative and management staff were allowed to use County Road and Bridge vehicles for personal use and to drive to and from work when that vehicle is not necessary for the person to perform their Road and Bridge duties. It was mentioned by more than a few of interviewees that they have seen the Public Works Director in Grand Junction shopping with his family, including a child, in the County owned vehicle during a weekend or during non-business hours from time to time.
Most of the interviewees are concerned that the fleet services department is going to construct a $100,000 to $150,000 meeting room so the field employees are separated from the equipment maintenance crew. Those who voiced this issue feel it is a complete waste of money and it is to satisfy the fleet maintenance supervisor’s ego and stress his delegated authority.
Road & Bridge Employee’s Evaluation
Management and Administration Personnel
1) Employees Evaluated within the Road and Bridge Department:
The evaluations took place in the Aspen Conference Room at the south campus (Tri-State building) where I felt the employees could feel they had a private setting and could talk freely. All of those interviewed were told that their conversation would be confidential and only issues would be reported, but not who reported those issues. These second round of interviews took place May 7th and May 8th, 2013. This report is in addition to the first set of interviews performed from April 9th through April 18th, 2013 and included 6 employees from Road and Bridge’s management and administration as requested by the Board of County Commissioners.
2) Employee favoritism:
Of the 6 interviewees, one felt that there is some favoritism from the management of Road and Bridge. It was stated by all 6 interviewees that they are not very familiar with what takes place in the field that they did not feel there was favoritism within the office.
3) Employee nepotism policy ignored by the Montrose County Road and Bridge management team:
One of the interviewees felt there was nepotism within the department and the other five stated that they weren’t aware of any nepotism with the Montrose County Road and Bridge Department.
4) Hostile work environment within Montrose County Road and Bridge:
Of those interviewed, only one felt the Road and Bridge Department had a hostile work environment because their supervisor was creating a negative work environment. The other 5 interviewee stated they didn’t feel there was a hostile work environment in the office and that they didn’t feel there was in the field, but they were not familiar with what went on outside of the office environment.
5) Management of the Road and Bridge Department:
Of those that were interviewed, only one interviewee felt that top management didn’t have good management skills. One interviewee felt that management was doing as good as the other departments within the County and the other four interviewees felt everything was working alright.
6) Road and Bridge’s safety program:
When discussing the Road and Bridge safety program, the safety officer stated that she didn’t spend much time in the field because of the office work she was required to perform. She stated that she needed more staff to do her job and the duties of being the County Emergency Manager takes up a lot of her time. She did state that she was aware that falsified safety meeting reports had been submitted and the safety meeting did not take place.
7) Other issues or concerns within the Road and Bridge department:
Talking to the Fleet Manager, he stated that he doesn’t spend much time concerning the management of the maintenance of equipment but delegates those responsibilities. He stated that he is a manager of the employees. He also stated that he didn’t see any problem with the County buying tires from his personal business, his tire store, because he has delegated those responsibilities to others at both the tire store and within his Fleet Management department and he is careful to not approve the invoices.
He was not aware that the field employees didn’t feel that he had enough background or knowledge of road and bridge equipment to perform his duties, but he stated that he didn’t feel that was a requirement.
The Deputy Public Works Director stated that he felt that the Public Works Director was doing a great job and that the Public Works Director has brought the Road and Bridge Department from being the antiquated department it used to be to a leader in the State as far as Road and Bridge technology.
It interviewing the management, administration and field operation employees, there seems to be a problem in that the management is not aware of what is taking place in the field with the operations or management of employee’s issues.
After numerous complaints by employees had been brought to the attention of the BOCC, I was asked to conduct an interview of employees of the County Public Works and Road and Bridge Department. I felt that an outside party should be called in to allow employees to feel that they could open-up to the interviewer without fear of having their names released. To this end, I called CTSI and asked for their help, and they responded by sending Dennis Hunt to do the interviews.
Mr. Hunt conducted his interviews at the South Campus of the County, and a total of 50 employees were interviewed in the process, 44 in the first group and 6 in the second group.
Attached are the questions asked and the responses that were given. Mr. Hunt did not release the names of those that were interviewed, as promised.
I am responding to the different topics/questions as to what has been done, is in the process of being done, or will be done about the issues that have surfaced.
The CTSI summary report is attached in full, and there is no spin on the report from this office.
Favoritism can sometimes be perceived, sometimes it can be real. This issue is being looked into to determine if there are substantiated instances of favoritism.
The nepotism policy is extremely week, and leaves the impression that it is possibly allowed to hire relatives. The wording of this policy is going to be changed and made definitive that no relative may be allowed to work in the same department. There will also be disciplinary action up to and including termination for a violation of this policy. The last paragraph of the responses under this question alleges discrimination in the hiring practice, and this is being investigated. Discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated under any circumstance.
A hostile work environment is a serious complaint. After this was brought to our attention, I called several employees in to my office, including a female employee, and discussed allegations with them and was told that they were aware of the situation, and stated that they had complained to the Road and Bridge Supervisor and nothing was done about it. Since receiving the complaint and investigating it further, the foreman has been terminated and other personnel action is pending as of this response.
As a result of this complaint, I am directing our HR staff to do a review of pay increases to see if there is a pattern of pay increase that might verify the allegations.
The allegation that un-safe vehicles are allowed to leave the shop is a very serious concern. Drivers have the right to refuse to drive an un-safe vehicle, and should refuse. This matter is being looked into. As for the parts, I have talked with a mechanic from that department and asked who orders parts, and I was told that everyone orders parts, so it would be hard to verify that this is a supervisor ordering the wrong parts. However, the supervisor should not be allowing everyone to order parts - there should be accountability and consistency in any shop that is ordering parts. This is a management issue that will be addressed immediately.
I have independently verified the allegations raised in this question, and it is very disturbing. There is a serious disconnect between management and field crews. Communication is seriously lacking, and management feels that there are no problems in the department and are shocked that this has become an issue. This is a management/personnel issue that will be addressed.
Morale is a valid issue and has been substantiated. This is a management issue that wiil be monitored.
The Personnel Handbook will be re-distributed to all personnel and signed for to make sure that all personnel have the latest copy with all current revisions.
Question 9 12
The safety officer issue is addressed in item 6 of the next section, and admits that she was aware of falsified safety meeting reports and that no meeting had taken place. The crew foreman involved in the ditch issue has been terminated, which also addressed the safety meeting issue.
The tire purchase issue is being addressed, with action pending. The vehicle use and misuse is being investigated, and an updated policy will be put in place quickly. The meeting room is cancelled and the funding will be used on the maintenance building in the west end that needs a major door replaced and other work on that facility.