By Dale Martin, City Manager
The city work staff has not been immune to the labor challenges confronting many other businesses and industries in the aftermath of the pandemic. In 2021, the city staff was struggling with a nearly 30% turnover rate. Significant productivity time was lost as new applicants had to be sought, interviewed, hired, and trained.
The challenge was not limited to junior staff. Senior operational staff with in-demand skills were wooed by other government agencies and the private sector. The lure of higher pay and other bonuses was worthy of consideration during the labor market spasms, and the loss of key personnel and skills would have had a terrible ripple effect on city operations.
Ms. Denise Matson, city Human Resources Director, developed and implemented efforts to maintain the city’s outstanding workforce. She was a critical part of the city’s negotiation team which, over the span of only a few months and with minimal discord, successfully negotiated three collective bargaining agreements. Ms. Matson re-crafted the city’s Pay and Classification Plan which had been neglected for nearly 10 years.
As a direct result of her leadership, the city’s turnover rate has been reduced to 13%, a remarkable 50% decrease. She leads an effective and efficient staff of two other Human Resources specialists: Ms. Teresa Bryan and Ms. Stephanie Brown. The Human Resources Department manages a variety of other tasks in addition to hiring: benefits administration, retirement support, and personnel policies. Another notable success of the department is the “wellness effort” for city staff, the results of which have a direct financial impact on the city budget.
For her efforts, Ms. Denise Matson was named the city’s Director of the Year at the Nov. 30 Employee Service Recognition Breakfast. This annual event, organized by Ms. Matson and her staff, formally recognizes city staff who have achieved a 5-year increment of service to the city. I want to publicly congratulate the city staff that was recognized earlier this week.
The Five-Year Service recipients (and their respective departments) included Garrett Black (Fire), Philip Blackstone (Police), Haynes Cavender (Ocean Rescue), Terry Dodds (Wastewater), Mary Hamburg (IT), John Hanifee (Facilities), Deborah House (Finance), Gigi Hudecki (city Clerk), Lorelei Jacobs (City Manager); Hope Lawson (Utility Billing), Matthew Lee (Fire), Katie Newton (City Attorney), Stephen Noden (Utility Billing), Wanda Weaks (Finance), George Wells (Code Enforcement).
Two other Five-Year Service recipients warrant additional comments. Mr. Andre Desilet (Public Works-Utilities Director) and Mr. Nathan Coyle (Airport Director) were the first two Directors that I hired following my appointment as city manager. I had little idea at the time how those two gentlemen would become the foundation of what has become a remarkably professional and dedicated management staff.
The 10-Year Service recipients included Michelle Arseneau (Police), Ashley Manning (Building), and Stephen Swearingen (Parks and Recreation).
The 15-Year Service recipients included Tammi Bach (City Attorney), Rusty Burke (Fire), Alisha Brown (Parks and Recreation), Ernest Cox (Parks and Recreation), Mike Dowie (Fire), Kelly Gibson (Planning and Conservation), Christopher Kopinski (Police), Kevin Kozak (Police), and Fino Murallo (Fire).
The 20-Year Service recipients were Teresa Bryan (Human Resources), Felicia Giannini (Parks and Recreation), Lillie Russell (City Clerk), Mike Sloper (Building), and Ryan Strickland (Wastewater).
Adam Loud (Fire) was recognized for his 25 years and Jim Norman (Police) was recognized for his 30 years.
The final award of the morning ceremony was presented to George Mention (Facilities), who was recognized as the Employee of the Year. Mr. Mention, a retired U.S. Navy veteran (Submarine Electronics Technician), is quiet and unassuming, very pleasant to engage. After retiring from the Navy in 2012, he worked a variety of jobs before joining the city as a Seasonal Maintenance Technician. He continued his employment as a part-time Maintenance Technician and then became a full-time city employee in 2021. Nearly a year ago, he was promoted to Electrician/HVAC Technician. His dedication to his job and the city is exceptional. On his own initiative, he pursued and acquired journeyman licenses in Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and Electrical. Mr. Mention is also currently in training to acquire his CDL license. Mr. Mention represents two of the highest qualities demonstrated by all city employees: professionalism and dedication. Congratulations, Mr. George Mention, City of Fernandina Beach 2022 Employee of the Year.