Human Services woes come to light
Report is critical of the 'culture' in county's largest department
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 5:03 AM
The Houston County Board of Commissioners set aside two hours to hear the results of an organizational review of their largest department on Jan. 22.
"There is enough finger pointing and blame to go around. What is needed now is leadership - at all levels - to step up..."
David Unmacht of Springsted Incorporated was hired on Sept. 18 for a set fee of $7,000. He presented a series of findings aimed at helping commissioners "obtain an understanding of the dynamics that are operating within the Human Services Department."
"These findings are designed to help you understand the culture and to provide you with ideas and options for the future," Unmacht reported.
The reason that the study was ordered is hinted at in the report, which cites two "themes" that emerged from interviews.
The first states (verbatim): "There is a lack of trust, respect and an inability to have open and honest conversation between management and staff. There is a strong perception that grudges are held and that raises doubts about personal agendas, ethics and integrity."
The second theme included: "The social work unit has not had to be accountable for many years. Because of this, as well as a revolving door of supervisors over the past few years, there has been 'little or no follow through', which has caused a 'lack of accountability, missed deadlines (and) missing data in SSIS (Social Service Information System) to the point where stats are skewed and funding streams damaged.'"
Unmacht reported, "The department remains in a state of uncertainty and anxiety. The interim (supervisory) positions are indicative of this condition. The county commissioners have overloaded interim management by having them do their old jobs while having them take over management of the department."
Human Services Director Beth Wilms resigned in December of 2010. Since then, a series of interim appointments have tended to polarize staff, Unmacht stated.
One faction "favors the present leadership and one does not," he said. "In many years of study and organizational analysis, what is distinct about this situation is a lack of a balanced middle.
"Normally, the middle is characterized by 'I simply want to put this behind us, work together and do my job'. This opinion surely exists, but was surprisingly quiet during this process."
Unmacht was critical of both "camps". The lines of division are drawn between staff who want to go back to "doing business the old way", and a conflicting group characterized as those who want to bring change and a different sort of accountability. That being said, those persons were cited for some alleged failures as well.
"The second (group) is the present leadership in Human Services (who) are not equipped with the skill sets needed to lead and manage the department," Unmacht stated.
"They don't have the knowledge and understanding of what it takes and also do not exhibit the personal qualities needed to gain trust, build teamwork and improve staff morale.
"The chain of command, although typically not strictly followed, especially in a small organization, is broken. The collapsing of the chain of command is a clear problem. Authority is undermined and lines of accountability are blurred."
Unmacht quoted a response from his survey on the stressful conditions that both factions have suffered through, "can roll with the external program changes, but fighting with our own people is demoralizing, stressful and... Everyone involved seeks a resolution and an end to the present situation."
"The opinions and beliefs, as presented, suggest the future is determined by an 'either or' course," Unmacht added. "Simply stated, we either stay with the present administration in Human Services, or we change course and bring in a new director."
Unmacht was not easy on county commissioners for their role in the ongoing situation.
"There is enough finger pointing and blame to go around," he concluded. "What is needed now is leadership - at all levels - to step up and assume personal responsibility to see that things improve. The county board must take the lead and set the example. Once they commit to their role, then the balance of the actions can follow."
Unmacht termed the situation "a legacy decision" for the county board, stating that it will likely have long-lasting ramifications.
"Houston County is full of great people, no matter your viewpoint. All of you want the best for yourselves, the county, your co-workers and the clients and citizens. A strong effort is needed to redirect your energies and priorities. This takes great care, patience, dedication and the ability to show respect and appreciation for other viewpoints."
Commissioners thanked Unmacht for his report, but remained mum as to what they intend to do.
Chairman Justin Zmyewski suggested that the board take some time to review the information.
"At this point in time I'd like to not turn this into a public hearing on this, and just take some time to let it soak in," he stated.