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April 12th, 2006 Ian Demsky | News Stories
 

Whistle While You Shirk?

Some Multnomah County commissioners might be happier working in France, according to a WW records analysis.

     
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Lonnie Roberts
Three of Multnomah County's five commissioners appear to be working closer to a four-day work week than five, according to WW's analysis of appointment calendars and parking records that gave commissioners every benefit of the doubt.

The biggest slacker is Commissioner Lonnie Roberts, whose records over a two-month period leave three and a half weeks unaccounted for. On some days, Roberts' calendar notes only that he is "in East County," the district he represents, while his colleagues log multiple events for themselves and their staff almost every day.

Roberts did not return several telephone calls from WW. And his Gresham office was locked and dark when WW tried to visit on Friday, despite his calendar's listing him as being there on Wednesdays and Fridays. A note outside the office directed constituents to make an appointment by phone. WW did not credit Roberts for time he listed only as "East County."

Meanwhile, commissioners Maria Rojo de Steffey and Lisa Naito weren't exactly burning the midnight oil either, at least not on paper. Both averaged slightly more than four eight-hour days a week in January and February (see chart).

In addition, Rojo de Steffey and Naito both spent more than a week on vacation or at out-of-town conferences that WW did not count against them in its calculations. Both say the analysis doesn't capture their true workloads. (County commissioners aren't required to work any set hours and can take as much vacation as they deem proper.)

Admittedly, our analysis wasn't scientific. County parking garage records were sometimes incomplete, and the commissioners didn't always come and go in their own cars or work out of their offices.

But commissioners aren't required to submit time sheets, so their calendars and parking records are the public's only way of knowing how hard the $71,000-a-year commissioners and $91,000 chair are working.

"Some weeks seem like they're 30 hours; others seem like they're 50 hours," says Commissioner Serena Cruz Walsh, who puts in more than 40 hours per week, according to WW's analysis. "It all seems to average out in the end. The expectation is that the voters will kick us out of office if they think we're not doing our job."

When WW explained its methodology, Cruz Walsh said she supported the lengths taken as fair.

First, we didn't subtract time for lunch unless calendars noted a private lunch event or records showed the commissioners leaving the office at lunchtime without a work-related meeting scheduled.

Second, if there was any question whether an event was personal or work-related, we counted it as work. (For example, we counted the seven hours Rojo de Steffey spent at a Heart Ball and gala Saturday, Feb. 11, toward her work week.) Third, we did not hold commissioners' vacation days or

out-of-town conferences against them.

Despite all those concessions, only Cruz and county Chair Diane Linn appeared to be averaging 40 hours per week. (And yes, we did subtract all campaign-related events we could identify from the schedule of Linn, who's running for re-election.)

So what's the big deal about working a 35-hour versus a 40-hour week? Well, consider this: Over a year, that difference would add up to the equivalent of an extra six weeks of vacation.

Which might cut the Dijon in France but not in the workaholic U.S.A. Even if you conceded a more relaxed 37.5-hour work week, that's still more than three extra weeks off.

Rojo de Steffey estimated she worked between 35 and 50 hours per week—"during the budget maybe 60."

She says her calendar doesn't reflect time she spends in the morning and evenings responding to work emails and working via a remote interface with her office computer. Rojo de Steffey also works from home many Fridays, catching up on tasks.

"It's the only way I can get anything else done," she says. "If I come in here, people want to talk to me all the time."

Naito estimated that apart from slow summer and holiday times, she often averages 50 to 60 hours a week, including keeping up with county business with phone meetings and emails even while on vacation. She has also been busy with the National Association of Counties public safety steering committee, which frequently takes her out of town.

"I don't really think that [WW's analysis] is a true reflection of my time," she says. "I'm sure it'd be higher than that."

She says the question to ask is not how long commissioners are working, but what they've accomplished.

Here is a comparison of the five Multnomah County commissioners' work habits based on WW's review of their January and February appointment calendars and county parking records.

Commissioneraverage work weekout of town conferencevacation
(Chair) Diane Linn39.7 hours3 days
Serena Cruz Walsh40.5 hours2 days
Maria Rojo de Steffey34.9 hours6 days
Lisa Naito33.6 hours7 days1 day
Lonnie Roberts19.7 hours4 days
News intern Erika-Leigh Goodwin contributed to this report.
 
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