Greensboro has bulked up administrative jobs while cutting infrastructure positions

by Jordan Green

Greensboro City Manager Rashad Young (left) and Parks and Recreation Director Greg Jackson chatted with fire department staff after a recent community budget meeting. (photo by Jordan Green)

The questions were submitted anonymously on note cards and read aloud to Rashad Young during an address by the Greensboro city manager at the Odeon Theater in early April that was attended by upwards of 200 employees and streamed over the internet to others.

Why, one employee wanted to know, were new employees being hired by the city outside of police, fire and other public safety positions when staff has been told that the city is under a hiring freeze?

“The hiring freeze is a modified hiring freeze,” Young responded. “In a government this large with this many responsibilities, we’re not going to be able to stay static and stagnant [such that] we’re only going to hire police officers and firefighters. There are critical positions all across this organization, both from an administrative perspective and operational perspective.”

In a year when the city has identified a budget shortfall of at least $9 million and as much as $18 million depending on whether the state reduces funding, employees might have reason to question whether hiring decisions are efficient and fair.

The city’s website currently states that “the city has enacted a hiring freeze for all positions except sworn positions in police, fire and Guilford Metro 911. Any other positions posted are those that have been reviewed and approved by the city manager as being critical to the operation of the organization.”

Since Young’s first day on the job in October 2009, he has deemed a handful of new positions in general government — an area that includes the city manager’s office, along with an array of support functions such as legal, human resources and finance — to be critical to the operation of the city. Most notably, Young created a new assistant city manager position and hired Michael Speedling to fill it at a salary of $117,000 last April. With public safety and human resources within his portfolio, Speedling has been assigned to discrimination complaints and discipline in the police and other departments.

Since Young’s arrival, a position has been created within the finance department for an analyst. The position was advertised internally to all city employees through its job board for 10 days, according to an official response by the city. Jerome Fletcher, who was formerly assigned to the coliseum, was hired for the job at a salary of $78,000.

The city manager’s office has also added positions for a planner and assistant administrator during the same period that are currently filled by employees earning $42,750 and $29,500 respectively.

City spending on salaries for police officers, firefighter and Guilford Metro 911 specialists has increased by $2.5 million over the past 18 months, in line with the city council’s directive to maintain focus on public safety. But overall, spending on staff salaries has decreased by $1.1 million over the same period, according to a comparison between positions created and positions eliminated through attrition, retirement or reassignment based on information provided by the city.

Only one other staffing area besides public safety has expanded. That would be general government, with a net increase of $397,980. The city has not eliminated a single non-vacant position in general government since Young’s arrival.

In contrast, spending on salaries in the area of infrastructure, which includes the engineering and inspections, field operations, transportation, water resources and the coliseum, has decreased by $928,160. Other areas that have seen net decreases in spending on salaries include what is now the planning and community development department, by $227,290; and parks and recreation, libraries, human relations and public affairs, by a total of $83,546.

At the end of the last budget year, the city eliminated positions that had been filled within the past 12 months for a structural engineer, a supervisor of construction inspection and two senior inspectors, an assistant superintendent for building maintenance, a chief of trades inspections, a coordinator of engineering projects, a painting supervisor and an administrative support specialist in the engineering and inspections department.

Positions for heavy equipment and solid waste operators have been eliminated in field operations, and the water resources department has cut positions for an environmental compliance specialist, an engineering supervisor, a crew member, an electronic processes technician, a meter reader, an applications developer and a civil engineer. The transportation department gave up a position for a signs and markings mechanic.

Young said the city was able to cut positions in the area of infrastructure last year without affecting service delivery because of the economic downturn.

“Permits are down double digits,” he said, “and so we’re carrying a workforce that is sized for a demand that isn’t present.”

The city will also achieve cost savings through the elimination of an executivelevel position in the area of infrastructure. Following Environmental Services Director Jeryl Covington’s resignation in December to take a job in the private sector, the city has eliminated her position and consolidated her department under the direction of Field Operations Director Dale Wyrick. Staff estimates the merger will save the city $129,615 for the upcoming budget year.

The city manager has proposed $2.8 million in cuts in the general government area for Tier 1 — cuts of first choice to achieve the minimum level required to balance the budget without raising taxes.

“In terms of the total reductions that we’re putting on the table, public safety represents about 45 percent of the general fund and the cuts at this point represent about 14 or 15 percent,” Young told residents during an April 28 community budget meeting at Trotter Recreation Center on April 29. “Conversely, in the general government area, where we’ve got budget, executive and our finance department, that represents about 30 percent of the cuts that we’re recommending. So we really tried to focus our efforts on making reductions in areas that don’t directly impact citizens.”

Young’s presentation highlights savings from the retirement of Deputy City Manager Bob Morgan and the elimination of his position, along with vacant positions in the legal and finance departments, which amounts to a total of $186,000. While that might be a significant reduction in spending on salaries for back-office support functions, it doesn’t get close to the $2.8 million figure in the city manager’s presentation.

It turns out that the largest area of savings identified in the general government area is something called “vehicle/equipment rental, network and insurance rate reductions” listed as the final line item on the page, which accounts for $1.8 million. This area of savings covers reductions in spending on fleet maintenance by all departments that rely on the general fund, including the areas of public safety, infrastructure and recreation. In other words, police vehicles, fire trucks, waste collection trucks and street cleaners.

The city manager said deferring vehicle maintenance is tricky: If you wait too long, shortterm savings could be offset by long-term losses.

“We could experience more significant costs especially for larger items like waste collection trucks,” he said. “We could experience more significant costs by those trucks aging and it becomes more expensive to buy replacement parts.”