LINCOLN — The Lincoln City Council has approved a move to help deal with staffing shortages in city departments.
During its regular meeting Tuesday morning, the council approved a motion by Councilman Joey Callahan to have interviews for candidates for several positions in the water department office done by the end of the next week. Callahan, Councilman Brandon Tate, and Councilwoman Sadie Britt volunteered to help hold the interviews themselves to help speed up the process.
Callahan's original motion came after the meeting fell into spirited discussion on the topic after Mayor Lew Watson mentioned the city was short-handed in the water and sewer department. He said the city has especially seen issues in the water department office in city hall, which handles bill payments.
Callahan said he wanted to know exactly how many positions are available and how many are posted for applications or could have interviews held. Watson said he did not have the numbers in front of him but could get Callahan a list Wednesday. Callahan said the current office employees are going through a great deal of stress because of the short staffing and he did not see why it shouldn't be handled as quickly as possible.
“I don't see any reason why we shouldn't have, and I want to say this very adamantly, why we don't have interviews ongoing right away,” Callahan said. ”I see no reason to delay this.”
He said he would like for any open positions to be posted by Wednesday if possible. Watson said that to his knowledge most of the positions are posted it's simply a matter of interviewing candidates. He also said he was in complete agreement with Callahan and that he would see what the hold up is.
Callahan said if the city clerk or mayor are having difficulty finding the time to perform the interviews that the council could hold the interview, an idea Britt was quick to agree with.
The councilwoman said that she was concerned for the employees having to pick up the slack from unfilled positions.
“What bothers me is the overload of the one person that's up there,” she said.
Callahan said the city’s inaction on the problem was a shame.
During this part of the discussion, Tate suggested suspending over the phone water payments for a period of time. He said the process is time consuming and even a brief suspension could free up current employees to do other tasks. The councilman said the city also provides plenty of other options.
Tate made a motion to put such a suspension in place with the mayor seconding in absence of a council member, but it was voted down by the rest of the council. Callahan pointed out that several residents are used to paying that way and it could cause them to miss a payment. Britt also said the abrupt change could cause the phones to be clogged with complaints instead of payment calls. Councilman Billy Pearson also opposed the idea.
Callahan said it was important that the council ensure adequate staffing to avoid any need for cutting services.
“That's a responsibility that we have and it's basically required that we provide the people to handle the services that we offer, “ he said. “Brandon, I agree with you, I just don't agree with cutting a service for the community because we failed to do our job.”
Callahan also said it could be possible to hire temporary workers to address the shortage or to use employees from other areas. He said he hopes the city’s new budget, which has not yet been approved, will include a full time human resource officer to deal with staffing issues in the future.
In other matters, the council:
—Approved change order No. 3 on the building package for Lincoln’s Landing from Hurst Construction, LLC. City Engineer Keith Strickland said the change order was to pay for steel connectors for the trusses at the main pavilion that were mistakenly left out of the initial bid package along with work and materials to install the park's three floating docks; and
—Approved celebrating Halloween on Oct. 30 for trick or treating purposes.