City employee Sammy Porter prepares a flower garden for planting on Fifth Street in front of the Magnolia Bowl in Columbus on Thursday afternoon. Photo by: Mary Alice Weeks/Dispatch Staff
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April 12, 2014 11:27:51 PM
Columbus' project managing firm will run the city's public works department starting Monday.
The arrangement will last a month, according to J5 Broaddus senior project manager Robyn Eastman.
Eastman said the goal is to help resolve inefficiencies in the department found during a study J5 conducted earlier this year. The study estimated a potential $1 million in waste in labor compensation for the department, which has a $3.5 million yearly payroll for its 67 employees.
For the study, J5 employees placed a GPS tracking device under the dash of a public works vehicle. They shadowed other crews from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. During that time, they wrote down observations of what the crews were doing every 10 minutes. They got a breadcrumb trail of the vehicle with the GPS installed.
The GPS allows the installer to set up a geographic fence around the city limits so that the tracker automatically sends an email if a vehicle leaves the boundary. It also reports irregularities. If a worker uses a vehicle during non-business hours, speeds or keeps a vehicle in idle for a long time, an email is sent to the administrator account for the GPS.
Idling and joyriding
Eastman presented the study's results to Columbus councilmen on April 1 in executive session. The Dispatch has obtained a copy of the study.
The study showed three alerts of city-owned vehicles in idle for long periods of time (one for 43 minutes, another for 37). J5 employees followed one crew around who drove 102 miles in a day, never left the city limits and never went over 34 mph.
"If you drove 102 at 30 miles an hour during a work day, you're spending three hours a day riding," Eastman said. "In those vehicles, there's five bodies."
Eastman said the nationwide normal productivity percentage of groups that do tasks assigned to Columbus Public Works is about 88 percent a day. Based on the study, the city is getting about 45 percent a day from its public works crews.
To stop employees from taking city trucks home for their lunch break and prevent other misuses, Eastman said he'll also consider dropping people off at a work site and picking them back up when the work is done.
During the executive session, councilmen approved a lease-purchase of 16 GPS modules. At $19 per module, the city will spend $3,648 on them over a year.
The study found that accountability is "non-existent" when it comes to foremen and crews keeping tabs on city equipment, Eastman said. Foremen can spend $199 on tools at any time without a purchase order or approval from department head Casey Bush. Eastman said while he helps manage the department, he will implement a comprehensive inventory of each piece of equipment. When asked how many vehicles the pubic works department had, Eastman said that information was also not documented.
"They're leaving things laying everywhere," Eastman said. "They don't have any sense of ownership that these things are there and they need to protect them. Right now, if a rake gets lost, we go buy another one. Who cares?"
Eastman said bringing every piece of equipment into a central location and numbering it will help with organization. He will also institute a policy where employees have to check out equipment and receive a deduction from their paycheck each time they don't check the tools back in.
Watching the clock
Tardiness and taking advantage of the work clock system is an epidemic in the department, Eastman said. If an employee clocks in at 6:07 a.m., he still gets credit for having clocked in at 6. If they clock out at 4:23 p.m., they get credit for clocking out at 4:30 p.m. If someone isn't monitoring that behavior, those 14 minutes a day add up, Eastman said.
"Seven minutes times 67 people is a big deal," he said. "Seven people times 67 times five days is a big number."
Eastman said writing people up and suspending people if they're late for work will become a common practice.
The city operates on a four-day a week schedule. The J5 report showed that two weekly schedules indicated that a crew of four employees was assigned to clean the bathroom and pick up litter at the Riverwalk. That was the crew's responsibility for all four days during the week of March 24-27. During that week, another crew of five people was tasked to clean street flowerbeds. That was the only responsibility they had each of their four workdays.
Three workers were scheduled to cut grass on public land in Ward 1 for three straight days that same week, while two others were scheduled to mow the ward for two days. This scheduling means many wards only get cut once every five to six weeks, he said.
"Having five people on a crew that needs two causes inefficiencies," Eastman said. "I don't need five people in a truck."
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith acknowledged that there was "a lot of waste" in the public works department. Smith believes Eastman and J5 Broaddus' work with the department will help bolster efficiency.
"The primary purpose of them coming in is to give Casey some ideas and suggestions as to what can be done to make the department more efficient," Smith said. "Hopefully after a month, there can be some changes made within the public works department to hold the employees more accountable and be more responsible so we'll be using the taxpayers' money more efficiently than what's been brought to our attention."
Eastman said based on his observations, the patterns of poor efficiency have developed over time. He believes helping Bush implement new policies and procedures will make a significant difference.
"More than anything else, I think it's to shape behavior," Eastman said. "I'm very confident that over the next four or five weeks you'll see some great changes that people will notice across the community. The real challenge long-term is going to be maintaining that."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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