The newly formed Laurinburg Employee Advisory Committee is inviting front line city employees to take a more active role in the city’s operation.
Featuring representatives from each of the city’s departments, the 14-member council will be comprised exclusively of non-upper management level employees.
The only exception on the council will be City Manager Ed Burchins, who plans to use the meetings to develop and improve the relationship between the city and its workers.
Meeting for the first time Thursday, Burchins said that the group will be used as both a source of ideas and feedback as well as a means to disseminate information to city workers.
“One thing we really want to do with the committee is create better relations and improve communication between the city’s management, myself, the department heads and the employees,” Burchins said.
Since assuming the role of city manager four years ago, Burchins said that he has wanted to form some kind of employee committee. The idea gained steam following an employee survey about 18 months ago that revealed some employee discontent with level of communication between management and lower level employees.
“The survey revealed that they really enjoy their jobs and working with each other but also that they don’t feel that there’s enough communication from management,” Burchins said.
Burchins also expressed faith in the ingenuity of city employees and expects a number of good ideas to come from the meetings.
“Employees on the front lines may have great ideas about how we can do things better, and with this committee we can create a dialogue – something more than just a handshake and a ‘how are you doing?’”
Creating a more intimate bond between employees and the city council and management is perhaps the greatest value of the entire project, Burchins said.
“We can have newsletters and an internal website where we can dispense and receive information, but that is too impersonal. This way we can sit down and look across a table at each other and talk, and my expectation is that they will take information back and convey it to other employees.”
According to Burchins, some employees have felt remote from the city council process, “often learning about decisions that mattered to them after they were already made in the newspaper.”
“Now they have the opportunity to give feedback and know more about what is going on before decisions are made.”
City council was unanimously in favor of the decision to create the advisory committee.
Calling the development of a similar employee advisory committee at a former workplace “the best thing that company ever did,” Councilman Herbert Rainer spoke effusively about the idea.
“They always had a pulse on morale because of that,” Rainer said.
Councilman Kenton Spencer called the decision to form the committee “another signal that the administration and governing team wants to incorporate employees in the process of making a better, more vibrant city.”
“We can’t go from good to great without employee ownership. It is a big deal. Who knows better how to run things than the people actually doing the work?” Spencer said. “This is just another manifestation of our bottom-up approach.”
The committee’s formation follows city council’s decision in June to offer workers across-the-board $800 raises in July.
Council has also voted to move toward a merit-based pay system, starting with the design of an evaluation model next year. Based on the “360 evaluation system,” the merit-based pay structure will include both managers’ evaluation of their employees as well as employees’ evaluation of their managers.