Edgartown will reclassify all town employee job descriptions

Outside consultant reported difficulty getting complete information from employee interviews.

—Bill Chaisson

Several Edgartown town employees expressed dissatisfaction with a recent evaluation of their job descriptions by an outside consultant. Based on information that the employees gave the consultant, the classifications of all town employees dropped a grade or two, making their positions comparable with those of lower-paid employees in other towns.

Responding to employee criticisms, Elaine Graves of the personnel board made it clear that no salaries would actually be reduced, and that the consultant’s suggested reclassifications would be updated using corrections offered in letters from employees.

But, it is unlikely the personnel reclassifications will be ready to present to voters at this spring’s town meeting.

Many employees complained that re-evaluations had not been done regularly, and Ms. Graves confirmed their view. She said that the last time an outside consultant had done a complete review was in 2001–02.

“It was a long process, similar to this one,” said Ms. Graves. “It [the reclassification] was rejected by the board of selectmen.” She said that every three to five years since then, the department heads had been questioned about their staff’s job descriptions.

“No job in the classification plan should be rated lower than it is now,” Art Smadbeck, the selectman, said, adding a comforting word for the workers attending Monday’s meeting. “You [the personnel board] have the power to do this. There is no one that I can think of that is doing less than they were five years ago.”

“There are things here that are not fair and not accurate,” shellfish constable Paul Bagnall said. “We waited 19 years for this, and now we seem to be rushing toward a deadline.”

“It doesn’t look like it,” said Suzanne Cioffi, chairman of the personnel board, “but at the end of the day, everyone is going to receive more money.”

She proposed spreading this increased cost over two years, but Mr. Smadbeck objected, saying it would be confusing.

Whatever the personnel board decides, town administrator Pam Dolby suggested holding a special town meeting later in the year and making changes retroactive. The personnel board agreed.

“At the annual,” Ms. Dolby said, “you should make a report from the floor that you are doing this, and you will be back for a special town meeting.”

Monday’s was the second of two meetings at which the personnel board and selectmen heard reactions from town employees to the proposed reclassifications. The first was on Jan. 23.

Last fall the Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, distributed a job-description questionnaire to all employees. “For incumbents,” the form advised, “the most difficult part about completing the position questionnaire is to remove themselves from the position and complete the position questionnaire as if … the position were vacant.” The consultant did follow-up interviews to clarify responses on the questionnaire. The comments collected in this way were used to write the draft report.

The remarks of the town employees to the personnel board indicated that despite filling out questionnaires and being interviewed, they routinely underreported their responsibilities. Karen Medeiros, the assistant town clerk, was a clear example. Mr. Smadbeck told the personnel board that Ms. Medeiros handled the contracts and other paperwork related to the alternative energy produced by the town (at its solar arrays). He said no other staff member was knowledgeable enough to do what she did. Ms. Medeiros then admitted to the personnel board that she had completely forgotten to mention that part of her job to the consultant.

Town accountant Kimberly Kane was unhappy that the job description “assistant” was ranked a grade lower and compensated less than an “administrative assistant.”

“The assistants truly are the assistant,” Ms. Kane said. “They act in our same capacity in our absence. If I were hit by a car, they would step in and take my place.” In contrast, administrative assistants do not take over in the absence of a department head. Ms. Kane noted that in other towns, assistants were placed in a higher grade.

“It should be revisited, where they should be relative to people they work for,” she said, and pointed out that in Edgartown’s current personnel plan, assistants were five steps lower than their department heads, while in other towns they were only two steps lower.

Town clerk Wanda Williams said that she would like to get Ms. Medeiros bonded so that she can expand her duties. When she looked into this change, Ms. Williams was told that an assistant was not allowed to do some of the tasks that Ms. Medeiros is already doing.

Town treasurer Pam Amaral noted that the town had recently moved payroll in-house, which gave her assistant Cindy Sherman more responsibilities, including reporting to the IRS and the state. Neither their compensation nor their classifications had been altered to reflect this change.

Stuart Fuller, the highway superintendent, sent four letters to the personnel board to forward to the consultant. Several of his department’s employees had been assigned to grades that did not match their skills and experience. He brought in photos of trucks that were completely disassembled, and said that “a lot of computers are involved” in the work done, and his staff members regularly take online seminars to keep up.

“It’s a unique situation on an island,” he said. “We have to fix things onsite.” Mr. Fuller also reminded the board that the re-evaluation process had preceded his department’s assumption of cemetery maintenance duties.

Ms. Amaral also asked the personnel board how the assistants had ended up below administrative assistants. Mr. Smadbeck said the administrative job title had been added when he was on the personnel board years ago. It had been done to solve a problem at the time, and had caused some difficulty, but there was no deeper reasons for creating the job title.

Personnel board member Dianne Durawa read from the draft report the list of factors used to rate a given position. They include job complexity, amount of confidentiality required, and occupational risks; there are 12 factors altogether. Ms. Graves explained that a point system was used. The draft study does not explain the point factor method mathematically or in any detail, saying only that it “is used to determine the internal groupings or classification of positions.” If, for example, an employee neglected to accurately report the degree of confidentiality or risk associated with his or her position, then it would be awarded fewer points for those factors and end up in a lower grade.

“I’m a scientist,” said shellfish constable Paul Bagnall, “so I want to know what my number is. I don’t know how the rating system works, so I can’t compare [my rating] with others, but my deputies are rated lower than other deputies.”

Mr. Bagnall noted that his position is a grade lower than the harbormaster, although his job requires a college degree, and he is the only constable/marine biologist/herring warden in the state. Mr. Bagnall has worked for the town since 1984, and became the head of the department in 1990. He said that his job description has not been changed since the 1990s.