by: Max Royle, City Manager ~ City of St. Augustine Beach

Time for the fourth installment in our series of worst public management practices. Today we’ll highlight two.

1, Management by Broom. Here’s the scenario: A newly-hired city manager decides that personnel at city hall needs to be changed so that the manager can make his or her mark on the government. Long-term employees are fired or forced to retire, and replacements are hired; or the manager brings in his or her team of department heads from where he or she formerly worked, to support the manager’s revamping plan.

Yes, sometimes managers are hired by city commissions/councils to do some sweeping because an iron broom is needed to replace the incompetent with the competent, remove the cancer of corruption, break up networks of employees resistant to change and deliver a “shock” to the city’s government that will make it possible for the manager to move the government out of its stale rut.

But sometimes a new manager arrives and doesn’t practice the targeted removal of deadwood but sweeps out employees, even senior department heads, regardless of their years of service and their willingness to change work habits and adjust priorities. The manager wants new blood.

That kind of sweeping usually doesn’t end well for the manager, especially in smaller cities where honest, hard-working employees of many years have strong roots in the community, many supporters, extensive institutional knowledge, and deserve a chance to change and prove themselves. The tearing of them from those roots and the resulting fury from residents can cause the city commission to wield its own broom and sweep the new city manager out the exit door.

2. Management by Bad Optics. In February 2018, the administrator of a small Florida county hired a retired county employee. Nothing remarkable about that, you’ll say. Well…the employee, a deputy administrator and close ally of the administrator, retired at an annual salary of $136,468.

Then, ONE DAY after she “retired,” the administrator hired her back to do the same work at a salary of $148,740, a nine percent increase. But there’s more: She received an annual pension of $68,172 plus a $330,148 one-time payment from the Florida Retirement System under its Deferred Retirement Option Program. Sweet, sweet, oh my, how sweet was the gravy on that train!

The rehiring of that former employee skirted a state law that bans the hiring of public sector retirees within six months after their retirement. How? Because the deputy administrator returned not as a county employee but as an employee of a private staffing company, to which the county’s taxpayers annually paid $41,542 for her services as a “consultant.”

Should I really have to go into detail about how blind to appearances the county administrator was to have ever implemented this devious scheme? It showed such contempt for the taxpayers and was so transparently a crude manipulation of the system that no defense is possible. In less than a year, the administrator was fired and the retired/unretired deputy administrator left soon afterwards.