LARGO — Judging by City Manager Henry Schubert’s near-perfect review, city leaders couldn’t be much happier with the direction Largo is going.
Schubert, who has worked for the city since 1980 with the past three at the helm, received an overall score of 2.89 out of 3 last month. He also received a 3 percent salary increase, bumping his annual pay to $202,426.
Mayor Woody Brown, who gave Schubert a perfect score, wrote only one comment on the evaluation: “This has been an excellent year.”
Some commissioners refrained from commenting on the day-to-day operations of the city, but all echoed Brown’s sentiment.
Vice Mayor John Carroll, who also turned in a perfect review, was effusive in his praise of Schubert and some of his recent initiatives, which include a reorganization of the administration department, a move toward more data-informed management and the implementation of a program that aims to stimulate collaboration among all levels of the organization.
“Mr. Schubert is a visible presence in the community, and hands-on leader in the organization,” Carroll wrote. “He delegates appropriately, is an effective communicator, does not avoid conflict, and credits others for successes. Mr. Schubert keeps a watchful eye on the budget, but he is not afraid to try new ideas or take prudent risks.”
Not everyone agrees with those assessments, however, as some say Schubert’s leadership style and the implementation of those new ideas are having a detrimental effect on the city’s employees and their morale.
One of the people with those views is the former Department of Public Works director, Brian Usher, who retired in February after a 12-year stint with the city. In his exit interview, Usher expressed several concerns about the direction the city is going.
“There has been a shift over the past few years from the city I was hired into,” Usher wrote. “I have heard from other long-term employees that ‘It’s not the same city anymore. They don’t care about us.’ There is a general feeling that City Hall does not understand what the employees from remote departments, who work on streets and get dirty, go through or experience.”
He added that City Hall is longer thought of fondly and said “more like a curse than a feeling of connectivity.”
Usher said some of those feelings stem from failures to effectively communicate, which is causing confusion amongst the ranks.
“There has been a lack over the past two years of clear, concise direction from management,” Usher wrote. “This has made providing direction to my subordinates very difficult. Decisions and directions have changed from day to day and the staff are left wondering if we truly have any idea what we are doing.”
Dawn Smolowitz, a recreation office coordinator for the city and vice president of the Communication Workers of America, the union that represents Largo’s general employees, agreed that there is discontent in the rank and file.
“Morale is lower than usual,” said Smolowitz, adding that she meets with employees each month.
The 24-year employee of the city said growing pains are expected from the new initiatives, such as the high performance organization program, but they are not being explained or shared properly, which she said is ironic because a tenet of the program is to empower employees down the chain with decision-making responsibilities.
“Most of the changes and policy changes and all kinds of things coming down the pike are all handled at the administrative and director level,” she said. “But when it comes down to the front-end people, they have no idea and most of them are confused and, naturally, it causes morale issues. When you don’t have what you need in order to perform your job at the best of your ability because it’s not shared with you, that’s a problem.”
Schubert said he thinks he gives good direction, but he understands concerns about major changes in the works. Unlike Usher and Smolowitz, though, he said overall morale isn’t a problem and he was surprised by some of Usher’s comments.
“As is always the case, I think people are always in a different place as to what their morale is,” he said. “Both as individuals and in different work units, I think overall the morale is positive in the organization. We are implementing a lot of changes and some people are very excited about those changes and others maybe aren’t supportive.
Both Usher and Smolowitz say Schubert also faced the challenge of following in the footsteps of former City Manager Mac Craig, whose outgoing personality made him popular with employees.
“Mac was extremely social and extremely people-friendly and went out of his to interact with everybody he came across,” Usher said. “Henry is a different personality than Mac. And that’s not saying he’s better or worse.”
Schubert said no one should doubt that he and the rest of management care deeply about each city employee, but he doesn’t deny that he could do more to circulate with them.
“I think that certainly I need to make an effort to maybe get out and meet with employees more on a one-on-one basis more often than I do,” he said.