The conclusive report on the Organizational Review Subcommittee’s findings declared the overall project a success.
The six Organizational Review Subcommittee members came together Wednesday, Nov. 3, at Town Hall to share their findings and final report with the town’s seven department heads and Town Manager Bruce St. Denis.
Subcommittee Chairman and Commissioner David Brenner, who also reviewed the town’s Finance Department, said the committee achieved its goals.
“This wasn’t a witch hunt or arbitrary budget-cutting session,” Brenner said. “This effort was greeted with enthusiasm among department heads and was an overall success.”
Subcommittee member and Commissioner Phillip Younger said that two-thirds of the suggestions made by the six reviewers have already, or will eventually, make an impact at Town Hall.
“No department failed to have something that didn’t have a positive impact,” Younger said.
Subcommittee member and Commissioner Lynn Larson said the experience also created better communication town-wide.
Ross Alander, consultant for the Planning, Zoning and Building Department, said he thinks the department “is doing some great things.”
“I went into the field, watched the front desk activity and saw the whole department in action,” Alander said. “One recommendation I had was having an advisory committee of builders and contractors to meet with town staff quarterly to explain their issues. I would also like to see the department have the ability to file for permits electronically.”
St. Denis said that meetings with contractors help the department realize what it can do differently.
“It’s helpful and we will hold another meeting in January,” St. Denis said. “We are also looking into a system where we can file permits electronically.”
Rita Barry, consultant for both the Fire Rescue Department and Police Department, stressed the need for better communication in the fire department and said she was glad to see issues she had with departments’ paper timecards had already been addressed. Adding a bicycle police presence in communities such as the Longbeach Village, which has had increased larceny activity in the last few months, might also be helpful for the Police Department, Barry said.
Dale Strohl, who acted as the Town Clerk/Human Resources Department consultant, strongly urged the town manager to consider spending more money to hire an administrative assistant to help Human Resources Manager Lisa Silvertooth.
“We are not providing the support she should have and are falling short in the area of employee-benefit procedures because of it,” Strohl said. “This is not an area we should be looking to save money.”
St. Denis agreed with the need.
“This is strictly budgetary driven,” St. Denis said. “We understand it’s a problem that one person has that much knowledge and is responsible for so much.”
Nick Kovalakides, consultant for the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center, stressed the need for higher rates for members who don’t live on Longboat Key. Kovalakides also believes a well is needed to save on high water costs because the courts need to be saturated daily.
St. Denis, however, said he thinks raising the rates at this time will only send those members to other tennis centers.
But the town is investigating the cost of a well and is already preparing welcome packets for prospective tennis members at Kovalakides’ suggestion.
Tom Freiwald, consultant for the Public Works Department, said he spent three days with Public Works Director Juan Florensa and his department.
“We can all be very proud of this department,” Freiwald said. “There are only seven people responsible for all of the beaches, parks, streets and the recreation center. That’s amazing, and I give this department an A-plus.”
But Freiwald called the town’s beach-maintenance program and the looming $40 million beach project “the 800-pound gorilla” that needs to be re-examined to try and save costs for taxpayers.
And Mel Taub, consultant for the Management Information Systems Department, had positive things to say about the department, only citing “a more rigorous budgeting process” and suggesting better ways to back up data.
Brenner said the next step for the subcommittee is preparing a final report for the Town Commission.
Before the meeting ended, St. Denis told the subcommittee and its consultants he appreciated the work that was done.
St. Denis said he would take to heart what the subcommittee thought was a key issue overall: better communication and customer service.
“We definitely have to do more customer-service training,” St. Denis said. “I don’t think our people lack skills, but you have to be able to tell people they are doing something wrong in a manner that doesn’t upset them.”
St. Denis noted that it’s tough being a police officer or code-enforcement officer, whose responsibilities include catching people in the act of a wrongdoing.
“Everyone here knows I went into this with some reservation,” St. Denis said. “My concern was what would happen depending on who was selected. I want to thank you all for doing the great job you did. All of the department heads were comfortable with you, and it was the key to a successful outcome.”
During the Organizational Review Subcommittee meeting, Commissioner Robert Siekmann suggested that the town should hold an annual Town Hall meeting, where citizens can offer suggestions on how things can be handled differently in their community.
“The theme of all of this seems to be better communication,” Siekmann said. “You guys have been marketing and selling the town to six people who have already been involved and worked to better the departments. If you let all people of the town do the same thing, you would do a great deal of additional good.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].