Editor’s note: Following is part of a series of reports from city of Wausau department heads for Daily Herald Media readers.
A few decades ago my daughter said her third-grade teacher was looking for Career Day speakers. “Mom,” she asked, “what do you do?”
“I manage a public service human resources Department, honey.”
“So, what do you DO?”
Trying to explain in terms easily understood by a 9-year-old, “Well, I work with a team to make certain we find good people to hire to accomplish the work of the government. Once hired, I help make certain they are treated and paid fairly. I also negotiate and administer employee benefits and collective bargaining agreements, and make certain employees receive feedback and training necessary to succeed in their jobs. When an employee decides to leave the organization, I make certain there is a record of their contributions.”
Less than thrilled, she replied, “OK. I’ll go ask Dad!”
While not the most exciting or attractive job to some, value‐added processes facilitated by Human Resources are critical to the delivery of key services to the city of Wausau’s citizens. It is our job to work with the Human Resources Committee, a standing Common Council committee, to offer competitive wages, benefits and working conditions to attract and retain police officers, firefighters, street and water maintainers, customer service specialists, managers and professional staff along with a variety of other employees to do the important work of delivering governmental services and maintaining the city.
Within Public Safety, hiring and discipline is accomplished within the oversight of the Police and Fire Commission appointed by the mayor. A staff of three —HR Consultant Jennifer Kannenberg, Senior HR Consultant Elise Krohn and I — support employing a city staff of 327.
In 2014, HR ran recruitment and selection processes employing 56 people (31 regular and 20 temporary, seasonal staff). Faced with a $500,000 projected health insurance cost increase, the HR Team developed a fourth plan option that’s projected to build reserves by $125,000, all the while expanding preventive therapeutic prescription drug coverage, eye care coverage and providing an income-replacement program for employees unable to work due to illness or injury.
HR also administered a performance appraisal system with 100 percent of employees receiving annual feedback in support of a new pay‐for‐performance system. When employees failed to perform their jobs satisfactorily or follow the city’s work rules, HR coached managers in making corrections or applying discipline. In many instances, HR facilitates alternative dispute resolution to resolve workplace conflicts.
Myla Hite is director of human resources for the city of Wausau.
City's human resource director testifies Tuesday in bench trial tied to suit from 10 former employees
By Ann Marie Bush
ann.bush @ cjonline.com
Jacque Russell, director of human resources for the city of Topeka, testified afternoon that despite difficult economic times in 2011, protecting city employees was important during the consolidation of the city parks and recreation department and the county’s department.
After calling three witnesses, the city of Topeka rested its case after 4 p.m during a bench trial at Shawnee County District Court.
Ten former Topeka parks and recreation employees are suing the city, contending they were involuntarily terminated from their employment with Parks and Recreation of Topeka on Dec. 31, 2011, then became Shawnee County employees the following day.
Attorney Grant Glenn filed a lawsuit against the city in May 2012 on behalf of former employees William Riphahn, Teri Simpson, David Specht, Clay Neal, Lynn Bishop, Bruce Andrews, Roger Wilcox, John Bell, Kathy Jo Huseman and Gena Brooks.
The 10 contend they should have received severance pay from the city.
A bench trial began at 10 a.m. Monday in front of Judge Rebecca Crotty.
John Knight, director of the merged parks and recreation department, and Terry Bertels, director of the parks department, also testified on Wednesday.
Most of the plaintiffs had testified on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, Glenn said one more of the plaintiffs will testify at 9 a.m. Thursday.
“There will be no closing arguments,” Crotty said after both sides agreed. “We’ll rely on the briefs.”
Shelly Starr, chief of litigation for the city of Topeka, spent more than hour questioning Russell about benefits the employees received in transitioning to the county. Fifty city employees were affected by the merger, Russell said. Two employees in the union, as well as two managers, opted not to transfer, she said.
Those who transferred were allowed to take their vacation time, some of their sick leave and senority with them, Russell testified. Employees who transferred also had the option to have be paid for some of their accrual hours.
Because the consolidation wasn’t addressed in the city’s personnel code, Russell “was blazing a new trail,” Starr said.
“The elephant in the room is ‘Why were these employees not paid severance?” Starr said.
Russell said severance is paid out when “you have suffered a job loss.” The city parks and recreation employees were guaranteed a similar job and the same rate of pay six months after the merger.
“Do you feel you were responsive to employees who asked questions?” Starr asked Russell.
“Yes,” Russell replied.
“Were you trying to hoodwink them?” Starr asked the witness.
“Not at all,” Russell told the court.
The petition alleges the city:
■ Failed to comply with its personnel code requirement that the city offer severance benefits to employees who have lost their jobs “through no fault of their own” as part of a “permanent reduction in force.”
■ Negligently misled the 10 into signing a waiver releasing their rights under the city personnel code.
■ Violated the Kansas Wage Payment Act by failing to offer the employees severance pay.