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Clearwater should respond to employees' survey

Any doubt that a morale problem exists among Clearwater city employees should be dispelled by the results of a comprehensive study of employees' attitudes. Seventy-seven percent of the 934 employees who filled out a questionnaire said morale is not good among employees in general. A whopping 92 percent of police employees said morale is not good in the Police Department. The number was almost as high _ 89 percent _ among firefighters.

Yet the vast majority of those who participated in the study, conducted by a university research team, said they like their jobs. They enjoy working for the city, think it has good benefits and most would tell others that the city of Clearwater is a good place to work.

Yet the perception of terrible morale persists. And the perception is all that is necessary to decrease productivity and eventually destroy an organization from the inside out.

City Manager Michael Wright is taking the results seriously. "The fact that they perceive there's a morale problem tells me we need to do something," he said.

But will city commissioners be as concerned? Some commissioners consistently have denied that a morale problem exists, even when employees, the media and city residents were telling them otherwise. At least one commissioner was unconvinced even after the results of the survey proved the point. "I've heard from the supervisors that this is an overstated problem," Commissioner Bill Nunamaker told Times reporter Laura Griffin. "If we let that disgruntled employee run the city, we're going to have a lot of trouble."

But the 934 respondents to the survey are not all disgruntled employees. They are for the most part people who enjoy their work, think they do a good job, and just want to be treated fairly and professionally.

They want to be recognized for good work. They want to be allowed to do their jobs. They want to get their information about city affairs from city officials, not just from newspapers and the rumor mill. They don't want to be denied fair pay raises while top management gets big increases. If they have a suggestion or complaint, they want to know they can pass it on to anyone, even the city manager, without fear. Fifty-seven percent said they would fear management retribution if they filed a grievance.

That city commissioners don't perceive or refuse to accept the depth of some employees' concerns is perhaps why commissioners were hammered by the employees. Eighty-six percent said commissioners don't care about city employees. Commissioners don't know what is going on, 79 percent of the employees said. And 91 percent said commissioners make too many decisions on the basis of political pressure rather than facts.

The city manager's office came in for some criticism, too. But that can hardly be an indictment of Wright, who was named manager only three months before the survey was done and who supported the morale survey to get to the bottom of persistent rumors. If the same survey, performed a year from now, showed the same results, there would be cause for questioning Wright's leadership.

The criticism of the manager is more likely the legacy of former manager Ron Rabun, under whose leadership a controversial reorganization was accomplished. Many employees felt Rabun was distant and uncaring and isolated himself at the top above a mushrooming layer of mid-level managers. It was during Rabun's watch that employee morale began to plummet.

The morale study cost almost $10,000, but was worth the money if city commissioners, Wright and his assistant managers make good use of it. The study results point out lots of needs. Foremost is improving communication, a challenging task in a bureaucracy but possible if leaders are creative enough and care enough.

Officials should determine whether some shifting of employees or hiring of new ones is necessary in some departments. A substantial number of employees said there are not enough people in their departments to perform necessary tasks.

A new look at employee rewards also is needed. Employees want to be shown appreciation and they want their salaries to reflect the effort they put forth.

Clearwater is fortunate to have hundreds of hard-working professionals who enjoy public service jobs. Let's make sure they stick around.