March 7th, 2014 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: City Hall, Activism, Business, Politics

City Hall Study Says Portland Utilities Crowded with Managers

news2_4004BUDGET HOLES: Bureau of Environmental Services engineers say they plan to spend $100 million in the next five years on capital projects that include green infrastructure, like this “green street” being installed on Southeast Clay Street. - IMAGE: Bethlayne Hansen

Portland commissioners have released a study showing which city bureaus have the lowest ratio of employees to managers—and two of the three worst offenders are the water and sewer utilities that could be removed from City Hall in a May vote.

The study, conducted by City Commissioners Nick Fish and Steve Novick, examines how many bureaus have managers who oversee three or fewer employees.

The recommendations in the "span of control" study were released Wednesday. Most media attention has centered on the Portland Police Bureau—Novick and Hales suggested 23 command positions couldn't be justified, and the cop brass pushed back Thursday.

But a closer look at the data in the report shows that while police have 33 supervisors who oversee three or fewer employees, the Water Bureau also has 33, and the Bureau of Environmental Services has 29.

No other city bureau has more than 14.

Fish tells WW the glut of supervisors in utilities is a result of the water and sewer bureaus trying to keep their most talented engineers by offering them higher-paying jobs that automatically come with a managerial title.

He says the report shows that tactic needs to change.

"It's as simple as, by designating somebody a supervisor you could pay them more," Fish says. "It may be a laudable goal to attract and retain the best talent. But it's probably a misuse of the supervisory designation."

While the study suggests eliminating 23 police command jobs, it suggests that most management overload in other bureaus could be resolved by reclassification and changes in pay structure. Fish and Novick have recommended another study to find those changes.

These results arrive as Fish and Mayor Charlie Hales are fighting a May ballot initiative that would strip control of the water and sewer bureaus from City Council.

City Hall's cause got a mild boost this morning with the release of a report by Portland City Club recommending against the creation of a Public Water District—a ballot initiative backed by businesses paying high water bills. (The City Club report can be found here.) 

But the managerial numbers in the city's own study aren't likely to help.

"Your questions about the utilities I think prove that we were open and transparent," Fish says. "We ought to have clear rules that apply to every bureau."

 
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