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Fairness should be top priority in choosing, compensating employees [Commentary]

IBM

Frequently, we hear the lament that government should be run more like a business. As a fellow who has worked on both sides of the street, I can certify that there are vast differences in objectives and what we might call the rules of the road.

But there are certain common principles. The very best organizations value their employees and want their long-term service and loyalty. Henry Ford raised wages over the norm early. IBM built a country club for its employees, not just its executives. Today, Costco pays its employees well and treats them well, even though its rivals pay less.

But more than pay, more than esteem, more than fringes, workers want fairness.

If a manager brings in a friend or relative from outside and pays them more than similar positions held by longtime employees, then the bonds of loyalty are broken.

If an employee is promoted over others based on social connections, from the right bowling team to the right house of worship to the right political views, then the bonds of loyalty and good will are injured, if not destroyed.

Former Commissioner Perry Jones used to bring in doughnuts for the clerical staff in the commissioners office every morning.

It was not just the small gift, but the thoughtfulness that made its mark. He was making a statement: "I value your service to the county."

Current Commissioner Richard Rothschild once hired an outsider on contract to perform the duties of a position that had been abolished by the new board, and paid that individual a contract fee equivalent to $72,000 a year.

The main qualification of this outside contractor seemed to be his political views. This arrangement eventually ended. But the mark remains.

Similarly, Commissioner Robin Frazier at first loftily declined the offer of regular clerical help, then later hired an "intern" at $27.50 an hour, a much higher rate than any regular fulltime county employee was paid for similar duties. Eventually, the internship was terminated. But the damage has been done.

More recently, the commissioners have pared the school budget to the bone as they simultaneously created a slush fund of $400,000 to support home schoolers and those who use private schools.

What kind of message does that send to the teachers and others who make Carroll schools' achievements among the highest in the state, even though salaries are much lower than in nearby counties?

Again, even if this fund is abolished, the insult remains.

I went to some parochial and private schools in my youth. There were no government subsidies, nor should there have been.

I was an intern once. I took the regular Federal Service Entrance Examination and scored highly. Later that afternoon, I took an additional exam, called the Management Intern Option and scored highly on that. Later, with other candidates I participated in a group problem solving session, observed by personnel officers from several agencies.

Both those who were offered jobs and those who were passed over knew that there was no hint of personal favoritism. We earned our positions.

I do not fault just Commissioner Rothschild and Commissioner Frazier. The other three commissioners know, or ought to know, the rules and customs for hiring and promotion in a government setting.

Contracts for personal services should be let competitively in every case. Internships should not be granted privately on personal whim, but should be advertised and chosen based on competitive qualifications.

Compensation should be equal for equal work. It is not just the rules but the intent behind the rules that need to be observed.

All I can do is shake my head and think: "Amateurs at work."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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