Over the past two or three years, we have seen a sharp increase in work-related injuries at the City of Albany. Some of the problem could be attributed to a heavier workload and aging employees, but I think there may also be an issue with the adequacy of our safety efforts.
Several years ago, I made a recommendation to the Budget Committee to eliminate a position in the Human Resources (HR) Department in response to serious financial challenges. Losing one position might not seem like a significant problem in a department with a hundred employees, but it represented a 20 percent reduction to HR. More importantly, we lost the one person in the organization who was responsible for monitoring overall safety.
All of us have some responsibility for observing best safety practices, but it helps when we receive regular education and reminders. State law requires us to have safety committees, and I greatly appreciate the good work they do. Our recent record, however, suggests that committees alone are not enough. There will be some changes in administrative responsibility for safety citywide, and there needs to be some changes in how we approach our jobs.
I am guilty of believing myself to be immune from injuries, especially those that come from lifting heavy things. My impulse is to grab whatever needs moving without giving much thought to my age and diminishing abilities. The unfortunately poor picture below shows a much younger and skinnier me standing next to a car that had gone off a steep embankment. My job as a volunteer first responder was to carry a heavy generator down the slope so that extrication tools could be put to work. It was really a two-person job, but there was only one person available to do it. I got it done without injuring myself or the generator despite the fact that it wasn’t a smart thing to do. The sheriff’s deputy at the scene was so impressed that after the patients were transported he took a picture of me wearing a dress shirt and tie.
We are working on a plan to have an individual responsible for coordinating safety efforts, and I hope to see that person in place by the start of the new fiscal year. In the meantime, I encourage all employees to stop for a moment before lifting a heavy load or jumping off a retaining wall or playing basketball on duty and consider an alternative. Usually we have time to get help before lifting something, and there are many safe ways to get exercise while minimizing the chance of an injury. Some accidents can’t be foreseen and prevented, even with the best of precautions. We can do better than our current record, and everyone will benefit when we do.
I was recently reading about troubles in another city that included complaints from employees that the management team met behind closed doors to say critical things about targeted individuals. The impression seemed to be that managers used their staff meetings to belittle and joke about employees. I don’t know how much validity there was to that impression, but it occurred to me that most City of Albany employees don’t get the chance to attend Directors’ meetings and consequently have no direct way of knowing what happens in them.
Agendas for staff meetings are available through my office, although they offer limited insight into the management team’s discussions. We spend much of our time talking about finance issues, project updates, upcoming Council items, and complaints from various sources. We sometimes talk about personnel issues, but usually only in general terms rather than about specific employees. Most recently, we’ve had some long discussions about a large increase in workers’ compensation claims and the effect they are having on the City’s insurance premiums. Directors have mentioned specific examples, but without disclosing names or any other personal information. My view of the management team meetings is that they are an important way to identify issues and help solve problems.
Employees who might be interested in attending a staff meeting will have a chance Wednesday, May 25, at 10:00 a.m. when our visiting fellows from the Philippines and Malaysia will present their impressions of Albany and the U.S. as they approach the end of their stay. I realize most employees will have other obligations (not to mention interests), but for those who can take a little time away from regular tasks without compromising what needs to get done, the presentations should be interesting and informative.
My goal for all City employees, and particularly for the management team, is that we will always do our best to live up to the ideals articulated in the City’s value statement. Respect is one of the cornerstones of these values and should not leave any room for degrading remarks or other forms of humiliation. Dealing with serious issues does not preclude humor, but jokes should not come at someone’s or some group’s expense.
I don’t know if the public allegations that appeared in the newspaper in another community were true, and there’s no reason for me to try to determine if they were. It is important to me, however, that all employees have the assurance that our organization and its management team are committed to respecting community residents and our fellow workers both publicly and privately.
Truth has never been a given in human history. If we are being truly honest, all people lie about something at one time or another. Most lies are well intended. We do not want to involve others in our problems, so we respond to the question, “How are you doing?” with a “Fine,” even when we are not. Unfortunately, premeditated dishonesty has found valuable new tools with the advent of electronic communications.
Councilor Floyd Collins reported at our last Council meeting that he received a phone call from someone claiming to be a law enforcement official that a warrant had been issued for Floyd’s arrest for failing to report to federal jury duty. Many of us have received similar threatening calls for a variety of reasons, such as alleged mistakes on our tax returns. Floyd recognized the con for what it was, and we’ve all heard enough of these by now that we find some humor in them. We know, however, that these calls keep coming because someone is making money from them at the expense of innocent people.
Everyone is familiar with the snake oil salesmen of American history and the many different scams that have been employed to separate people from their money. According to Wiki Quotes, P.T. Barnum did not say, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but a banker named David Hannum did when describing one of Barnum’s many hoaxes. The difference between the dishonesty of the past and that of the present is that today’s practitioners have much better tools that distribute their deceit to a much broader audience.
I have been guilty of thinking that people would have to be really gullible to fall for these schemes until I found that my wife had responded to a very convincing request from an e-mail that almost perfectly replicated correspondence from our bank by sending off our user ID and password. I was able to change both security settings almost instantly so our bank account wasn’t emptied, but these threats are increasingly sophisticated and convincing. I’ve had two debit cards replaced because someone locally swiped information from the magnetic strip and used it to manufacture fake cards that were then used in other states. My bank is now issuing debit cards with a chip to make it harder to steal information.
Despite the fact that dishonesty is all around us, I frequently need to remind myself that most people are basically honest and concerned about the welfare of others. If my optimism was unfounded, civilized society would not be possible and the many interpersonal transactions we successfully conduct every day would end. I refuse to live my life in fear of being cheated and will continue to believe in basic decency while keeping a close eye on my bank account.