Pelham city manager gives overview of city’s successes, weaknesses

Published 3:18 pm Monday, January 14, 2019

PELHAM – At a Pelham City Council meeting on Thursday, Jan. 3, city manager Gretchen DiFante gave a presentation to the council detailing the city’s accomplishments and areas where work still needs to be done.

Before her presentation, DiFante stressed that although there are many things that the city does well, her job as city manager is to point out areas within city operations that need improvement. She said her intent is to shed light on things that need to change in order to make the city an even better place to live, work and play.

After learning about the city, DiFante said five areas needed the most attention: human resources, engineering, public works/water, finance/budgeting and the city’s garage. She said the most internal complaints were related to human resources. There were employee complaints about job descriptions, classifications, people being paid before working, a lack of performance management and training was not a priority in some areas.

When it comes to citizens and the business community, the most complaints were lodged about the engineering department. Citizens complained about unresponsiveness, role confusion among employees and multiple internal handoffs. She said she also noticed that there was an over-dependence on the city attorney and a lack of short term planning.

While it’s good to seek advice from the city attorney when needed, DiFante said employees should be knowledgeable about certain topics.

In the Public Works/Water department, DiFante noted a duplication of work, inconsistencies in standards and expectations and issues with water and sewer billing and repair work. She also questions if the department’s spending is aligned with their priorities.

While going through the budget process with the city, DiFante said she noticed that there was a lack of budgetary goals and an unclear budget process with no long-term plans or reserves set up to fund capital projects.

The city has been overpaying for its annual audits because the hired auditors are also handling accounting tasks. The city does not currently have an accountant or anyone to handle purchasing, which are two jobs DiFante said the city is in need of.

When it comes to training employees, DiFante said public safety is the only area that stays on top of making sure employees are well-trained and using up-to-date equipment. Many other departments are working with improper or outdated equipment and haven’t received much, if any, professional development opportunities.

Throughout 2018, several steps were taken to correct some of the issues DiFante mentioned. In the human resources department, there was a change in leadership, a biometic scanner was installed to take finger prints and a new employee time-tracking system was installed. The city is making the move to paying employees in arrears and two city departments implemented new interviewing processes.

In an effort to improve responsiveness to the public, six divisions were rolled into one. The engineering, mapping and planning, landscape maintenance, street department, building and revenue and water and sewer combined to become Development Services and Public Works.

Combining these divisions makes serving the public easier and provides a more efficient process for businesses who’d like to build and expand in the city, she said. The city manager said the goal is for customers to look forward to interacting with city employees and for there to be transparency and accountability for every dollar.

The city also made other achievements, such as combining landscape maintenance and the street department, which yielded a significant decrease in employee sick time and new equipment was purchased for the department.

The city also saw increased public engagement: Facebook page likes went from 6,876 to 8,070, Instagram grew from 1 follower to 566, website visits grew from 85,309 to 139,773, residents who signed up for the Notify Me service went from 876 to 3,585 and activity on Request Tracker went from 423 to 1,520.

Other highlights for the year include, improved business council meetings, new subdivision regulations, better responsiveness to developers, new city facilities and the comprehensive planning process began.

Up next, the city plans to create new job descriptions and recruit good leaders, purchase new accounting and human resources software, train employees, complete a capital plan and setup reserves to maintain infrastructure.

DiFante said there’s a lot more work to be done and she excited for the journey ahead.