Woodland's mayor blocks review of city employees

Study of the city clerk and treasurer's office ordered by city council

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Woodland's mayor will not cooperate with a proposed efficiency study of the city clerk and treasurer's office and will direct city employees to do the same, according to a memo he sent council members.

Mayor Grover Laseke's edict comes after the Woodland City Council approved with a 6-1 vote earlier in the month spending up to $10,000 hiring a consultant to conduct a review of the department, which oversees daily operations for the city. It would be the second outside assessment of its kind for the city in the last three years. The council will address the proposal, and the mayor's memo, at Monday's city council meeting.

In his memo to city councilors, Laseke wrote that he saw no reason to spend money on another study. He wrote that it was solely his responsibility to conduct assessments and that he had recently completed one for the clerk's office in June.

"I'm resisting this because I don't think it's an appropriate use of money, and I don't think it's (city council's) job," Laseke said in a phone interview.

City councilors who voted to hire an outside firm to conduct a study say it's within their purview to set aside money to investigate ways to make Woodland more efficient.

In a response to the mayor, Councilwoman Marilyn McCall wrote that Laseke's refusal to cooperate with another study violated "the duties and responsibilities of the mayor's office." She wrote that directing staff not to cooperate with the study also cast a negative light on the process with city staff.

In a phone interview, McCall said the proposed study was not intended as a personal or professional attack against the clerk's office, but rather a way to look at ways to realign services so the department can accomplish more ahead of Woodland's plan to hire a city administrator in 2015.

"I know there's a lot of work to get done, and I don't see deadlines

being met," she said.

A previous consultant's report into Woodland's operations divided city staffers and elected officials.

In the summer of 2010, the city council approved a contract with Prothman Co. to complete a citywide organizational assessment. It was completed in early 2011 and found that within the clerk's office, "workloads are uneven among department workers and employee role definition is not clear. These challenges are resulting in low employee morale and perhaps elements of a hostile workplace."

In a written response to the Prothman report at the time of its release, then-Mayor Chuck Blum wrote that the report's objective was to point out the city's deficiencies. The unstated goal of the report, he wrote, was to convince people the city would be better run by hiring a city administrator.

In 2012, the city adopted a timeline for hiring a full-time city administrator to run its day-to-day operations. The timeline calls for the city to make its hiring decision by Dec. 31, 2015.

City Clerk Mari Ripp wrote a memo to Prothman in early 2011 requesting that a number of corrections and a retraction be made to the report. Ripp wrote that statements in the report alleging personal conflicts within the clerk and treasurer's office were false.

Laseke said the Prothman report was an incomplete snapshot of the city from late 2010 and isn't reflective of the city three years later. He said it's time to put the report to bed and focus on the future, including hiring a city administrator.

But before that can happen, the city requires more direction on how to solve inefficiencies.

"I would like to see an organizational chart and a list of steps to take so the city can smoothly realign by 2015," she said.