‘Great Expectations’ for personnel director

To the Editor,

This week the City Council approved a job description for the Personnel Director. As you may have read in Thursday’s paper, I was opposed.  However, all of the reasons for my opposition were not detailed in the article due to space.

Here is some background. We have gone through several Personnel Directors in my 11 years on the City Council. We cannot seem to attract and retain the person we need for this job.

This person manages a very small team of people who are responsible for the employment of our city workforce and over 100 million dollars per year of wages and benefits. They have significant impact.

The job duties and expectations as outlined in the job description are many and significant. However, the education and experience requirements are low, and the salary is well below market value in the private sector. The job duties and scope are comparable to a VP of Human Resources in the private sector, yet the salary offered is comparable to mid-level manager at a medium size company. The average salary for an experienced HR “manager” in the Springfield market is about $110,000. The salary for a Director or VP of Human Resources ranges from about $130,000 to $200,000 in the Western Mass/North Central Connecticut market.

Underpaying and attracting less qualified and experienced people is being pennywise and pound foolish.

In their role in City government, the Personnel Director reports to the Mayor, and interacts with other elected bodies, boards, commissions, the law department, department heads, and union reps.  They need to be fully qualified, talented, hard-working, detail focused, a leader, a communicator, and be able to earn a level of respect from everyone they deal with. They must be comfortable dealing with municipal labor unions, personnel service agreements, civil service, an array of benefits, contemporary federal and state HR compliance issues, and all of the complicated and unique laws that municipalities in Massachusetts have to deal with. This is a lot different than the private sector. A person with no experience in these matters will be Peter-principled from the start, and have one heck of a learning curve. While in this learning curve, the person could be taken advantage of; have a hard time earning the respect of others; face great frustration; and/or cost the city a fortune in less than ideal contracts, inappropriate resolution of grievances, wrongful termination suits, discrimination claims, or other similar HR legal matters.

That’s why I wanted to firm up the requirements, and require management experience in Massachusetts municipal human resources and with municipal labor unions.

The Mayor’s cover letter said such requirements would limit the candidate pool, and that the “salary for the Westfield position is unlikely to pry a qualified candidate from their current position.”  To me, that says it all, and it sounds like a defeatist statement implying that Westfield cannot afford to get a qualified person. That is not accurate. We can’t afford not to get the right person. It has to be a priority. That department and the City need a good leader, and they need the support staff necessary to perform the services that are required. We can afford to pay a bit more for this critical “back office” operation.

If we have small candidate pool, I’d be fine hiring a professional recruiting company to help find and hire the person we need.

Like the CFO role I’ve discussed before, the right person more than covers their higher wages by saving the City money. Avoiding one lawsuit could make up for ten years of higher wages for the department head.

I also think this department could be modernized and reimaged. The term “Personnel Department” is dated and does not reflect the scope of services that are covered in a modern operation. This is more a matter of will and respect than money.

As we move forward with the hiring process, I hope we can attract quality candidates, and hope that we can hire someone who can do a fantastic job. However, based on our history, I’m not all that optimistic. A good person may last a little while and then hop to another employer who will pay twenty to thirty thousand more per year.

Dave Flaherty

At-Large City Councilor, Westfield

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