Routt County hasn’t conducted an employee opinion survey since 2012
January 31, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s easier for citizens to find out what government workers at the city of Steamboat Springs think of their work environment, pay and leadership than it is to get answers to the same questions at Routt County.
The city government each year spends just over $4,000 on a survey that asks all of its employees for their opinions on their work climate, their views on their supervisors and their compensation, among other topics.
The survey, which the city started conducting annually four years ago, also has revealed what city employees think of the leadership being provided by the City Council.
Members of the public can obtain copies of the opinion survey results each year through an open records request.
But the county hasn't conducted an opinion survey of all of its workers since 2012, and it currently lacks a baseline on how its employees would grade their supervisors and work environment.
After a former employee and a grievance board of three county officials recently raised concerns about the working environment at the Routt County Treasurer's Office, Steamboat Today asked Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn whether she had independently conducted any opinion surveys of her employees during her tenure.
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Horn responded to the question about the surveys in an email by saying she would no longer be responding to any questions posed by the local press.
She claimed the newspaper had been making an incessant number of phone calls to her office and has misrepresented her quotes.
"To put it in hockey vernacular, I'm putting both you and your paper in the penalty box," she wrote.
She added all of her time and effort needed to be focused on the taxpayers.
Chief Deputy Treasurer Patrick Karschner, who is running to replace Horn as treasurer, said he also was not going to respond to any questions from the newspaper.
Steamboat Today subsequently filed an open records request seeking the results of any employee opinion surveys taken in the treasurer's office in 2016 and 2017.
Horn's office responded that no records were found.
Horn and Karschner’s policy of not answering any questions from the newspaper comes after recent reports about a $6 million property tax error the treasurer’s office made, concerns about the work environment in the office and a recent report that Horn phoned a campaign consulting firm she is using for her state treasurer’s campaign from her county office line.
The concerns about the work environment in the treasurer’s office were raised by former employee Rani Gilbert, who claimed she was wrongly blamed for the property tax error.
A board of county officials that was convened to review Horn’s firing of Gilbert upheld the dismissal, but the board also took the unprecedented step of penning a memo in the fall that said, "there is reason for concern about fair and equitable treatment of (treasurer’s office) employees below the level of Chief Deputy Treasurer.”
The grievance board also wrote they had heard enough evidence at the private grievance hearing to “substantiate reason for concern that employees below the level of Chief Deputy Treasurer fear retaliation from their supervisors if they question the actions, methods and/or directives of their supervisors.”
Asked whether the county conducts employee opinion surveys, County Manager Tom Sullivan said Wednesday the county last sent out an opinion survey in 2012 to all of its employees using Survey Monkey.
"It would have been a positive thing for us to use that (survey) as a baseline and follow up with another one in a year or so," he said. "But since we did that in house, staff just didn't have the time to follow up on that again."
Wendy Friden, the human resource manager for the city of Steamboat, said she thinks the annual employee opinion surveys the city conducts are worth the investment for the local government.
The city uses a nonprofit group called the Employers Council to conduct the surveys.
"This has been a valuable resource and tool for us," Friden said. "By understanding the data, we can determine what areas we are doing well in and what areas may need extra attention."
City Manager Gary Suiter, who took the reins of the city government following an investigation that found evidence of a hostile work environment at the police department under previous leaders, holds an "all-hands" meeting with city employees twice a year, and the results of the survey are discussed.
"I can tell you the surveys are used for informing managers as to employee attitudes, setting organizational goals, identifying and addressing priorities as they relate to the budget process, and for providing feedback to the entire organization and City Council," Suiter said.
Sullivan said the county is currently in the process of conducting new cultural assessments of each department with the goal of increasing communication and collaboration amongst county employees.
Part of the work will include employees offering their thoughts on the human resources department.
The city conducts its employee opinion surveys in the spring, and the results are usually available in the summer.