TAKOMA PARK — With the upcoming budget season, some of Takoma Park’s department managers asserted at a priorities meeting on March 1 that current staff shortages limit the ability of municipal departments to carry out the objectives laid out by the City Council.
“Our workload exceeds our staff capacity by an amazing amount,” said Sarah Anne Daines, the city’s Housing and Community Development director. “There’s a lot of commitment in terms of staff, time and energy in making those efforts come to reality.”
As the City Council discussed its budget priorities for the 2018-19 fiscal year, several other department managers said they run programs with limited staff.
“We have a small city staff that does a great deal and their commitment to carrying out the Council’s priorities has been terrific,” Mayor Kate Stewart said. “With a small staff, it’s important to recognize the need to possibly add more staff.”
Ellen Arnold Robbins, the city’s Library director, explained that her department relies on a full-time and one part-time children’s librarian to administer 350 different annual programs for adults and children, which attract approximately 17,000 residents.
“Our halftime children’s librarian works every Sunday, leaving her with little time to do programming during the week,” Robbins said. “If she was full-time, we could do more outreach programming and programs for teens.”
Takoma Park Finance Director Susan Chung said her department’s five full-time employees are often stretched thin when handling important and time-sensitive tasks such as filing audit reports and completing employee tax forms.
Chung explained that certain tasks, such as signing checks and handling cash, must be handled by two different people to minimize “fraud and also error” limiting the amount of cross-training that can take place.
She added that the Council’s efforts to move the city’s finances to environmentally-sustainable investments would require her department to “set aside some extra funding … and would take months before we settle everything down”
Gregory Clark, who runs the city’s recreation department, explained he streamlined operations by merging two part-time positions to create a full-time position with expanded responsibilities designed to increase the city’s youth outreach which Stewart added that “was a great example of achieving goals with limited resources.”
Although the meeting followed an unusual format that did not allocate time for public comments, Sean Hendley, a public works employee with the city, tried to bring the Council’s attention to the city’s seven-month labor negotiation impasse with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union which represents the city’s employees.
Hendley, who is directly involved in the negotiations, attempted to bring attention to the city’s pay-for-performance system, which he previously explained, is poorly implemented and prone to misuse before being told by Mayor Kate Stewart and City Manager Suzanne Ludlow that public comments were not allowed during the meeting.
Dave Burbank, a library employee and a union member also involved in the negotiations, added the Council “hasn’t made an effort to find out what the story is” with regard to the impasse.
“The Council’s impression seems to be they are management instead of that they oversee management,” he added.