April 20, 2017 11:08:58 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
Oktibbeha County punted a decision on placing Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers in road department vehicles to May after supervisors raised questions Monday about employees' productivity and how such a tracking system would affect morale.
Supervisors began discussing the pending purchase after receiving a quote from the Starkville-based Security Solutions for 25 units at a monthly $25 per-unit rate. The total cost includes installation, setup services for monitoring computers and unit replacement and maintenance as needed.
The board took no action on the offer as supervisors have not yet determined how many units to purchase and on which county vehicles and equipment apparatuses to install the devices.
Both District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller and District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery stumped for the potential purchase as a way to assist with the county's ongoing reassessment of its road department.
While the GPS devices will allow managers and supervisors to see where its equipment and crews are, the rate of speed at which they're traveling and how many miles they travel, the two supervisors said they will also address worker efficiency.
Miller and Montgomery told their fellow board members Monday they receive numerous calls from citizens about workers repeatedly being spotted off-site in county vehicles during work hours. Installing the trackers, they said, will allow road foremen and the incoming road manager to better ensure workers stay on-site and productive.
"Even when (former Road Manager Victor Collins) was here, he said he couldn't keep up with what everyone was doing at all times. This is a way to streamline management and be more proficient. For me, it's something that will actually help the county save money in the long run and help to eliminate these issues, if they are actually going on," Miller said. "It's like the trigger switches (a new system that sends work reports to supervisors for review) in that they helped move us into the next step of accountability."
Pushing the microscope down on employees and tracking their every move could hurt morale, said District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer. As he also acknowledged fielding numerous phone calls from the public about employee performance and issues, Trainer did not rule out supporting an eventual purchase.
Putting employees who routinely skip off work sites on notice in a formal meeting, he argued, could deliver better results than tracking vehicles and equipment.
Even if the county does purchase the GPS systems, Trainer said he'd still prefer to first meet with affected employees to remind them "the public is watching."
"You already have a monitor: John Q. Public. If we have people that we need to deal with individually, let's just deal with them instead of punishing everyone. If you put in a GPS, you're then implying that somebody's not doing what they should be doing. We're trying to go through the restructuring process and raise morale, but I think this would be in bad taste," he said. "Our employees are not going to be effective because they're going to always be concerned about being on task. My situation is reverse psychology. I don't want to know where everyone is at. But I'll tell you this: If you're doing something you're not supposed to be doing, I'll find out. You do what you want to do, but you have to realize that if you do the wrong thing, you have to suffer the consequences."
More time to study
District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard questioned how the data produced from the GPS trackers could be presented in reports and who would be tasked with reviewing the information.
Unlike his four counterparts, Howard said he was unaware of serious performance issues within the road department.
"Apparently we have a bigger problem than I know of. For whatever reason, I haven't been hearing about it like y'all have. I may hear a little something, but this huge misrepresentation across the county road department? I didn't realize we had a problem this big," Howard said. "We must not be doing a good job with our foremen, because foremen should be doing good jobs with their crews. If a foreman assigns daily work, he should know where his motor grader is and where his patching crew is."
District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams called for more time to study the issue, which will allow supervisors to decide how to implement the system and to ascertain who would be responsible for monitoring its data.
The board is expected to ask a Security Solutions representative to attend May 1's regular meeting and provide more information about the system.
"Foremen need to be monitoring their vehicles. If you monitor the foremen, they're responsible for making sure everyone is on-site and doing their jobs. If they leave their workers, then the workers could goof off," Williams said. "(Supervisors could) wait until we get a new road manager. He could have a solution to the problem."
The county has received seven applications for Collins' position after he retired March 31. The board named County Administrator Emily Garrard as the interim road manager earlier this month but has not taken any other formal action on the vacancy.
Interviews and a hire could come in May.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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