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Our view: A question of competence




Any organization -- be it a business, school system or government -- is only as good as its management and employees. The ability to hire competent workers along with a clear path to remove ineffective ones, as unpleasant as that can be, is critical to the success of any organization. 


While we would agree teacher pay should be higher, our schools don't suffer solely because of a lack of funding. They suffer due to various combinations of indifferent, incompetent and uninspiring teachers and administrators. 


Removing an incompetent teacher requires extensive documentation, is time consuming and can be expensive. As a result, we too seldom see teachers fired for incompetence. And while we have many talented and dedicated teachers and administrators in our community, we do have incompetent ones. 


By contrast, private businesses have more flexibility when dismissing ineffective employees. As long as the employer isn't making a decision based on a protected class (race, sex, age, religion, etc.), they can, in most cases, dismiss an employee for any reason. 


As long as the employer has the stomach -- and we would hope, justification -- for it, this nimbleness gives them the ability to replace an employee who is hurting the business. 


While an organization may survive without this liberty, it certainly cannot flourish. Anyone who has been responsible for hiring knows that no matter how thorough you are in employee screening, you occasionally hire someone who is a bad fit for a job. 


A local restaurant has suffered recently as a result of poor service by its wait staff. The restaurant owner told us that as soon as he realized service was the cause of his declining business, he dismissed the problem employees and hired new ones. Without the ability -- or stomach -- to fire those employees, that restaurant faced a bleak future. 


That brings us to former Columbus' Office of Federal Programs Director Travis Jones. Jones has been with the city for about two decades. We are sure he has done good work at times, but in the past six months, under his supervision, that office missed two grants due to clerical errors. The first was a simple mathematical error, which cost the city a $500,000 grant to renovate City Hall. The second, a grant which would have helped low-income citizens rehabilitate their homes, was lost because the office ran an advertisement on the wrong day. 


After the second failed grant, Jones suggested the Columbus City Council demote him. The council took his advice, suspending him 15 days and demoting him to a project coordinator position. His pay decreased from $42,950 to $34,834. 


Had Jones been working for a business, he surely would have been fired. 


These two failures have not only cost us dollars, but they also cost the city council credibility. Successful grant-writing is in the details, and Jones has been missing the details. If the council cannot or will not release an employee after two spectacular failures, under what circumstances would they dismiss someone due to poor performance? 


Their decision to demote rather than terminate may also result in an additional employee in the Federal Programs department. Is there really a need for an additional person in that office? 


Firing is not easy and has its own set of consequences for an elected official. After all, when considering a dismissal, councilmen know they will be asking that employee's family and friends for their votes in a future election. 


But for this community to succeed, for its citizens to believe we are on the right track, our leaders must have the courage to dismiss incompetent employees when circumstances warrant it. 


Otherwise we are destined for mediocrity, or worse.



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