Many Oak Grove city employees have minimal experience with government work

Of the 62 people employed by the city of Oak Grove, 22 have less than one year of experience serving the city, according to data provided by the city.

In the minority, Dennis Cunningham, Oak Grove police chief, and Victor Lynch, Oak Grove deputy chief, have served the city about 12.5 years and 13.7 years, respectively. This makes them the city's longest-hired employees.

On average, city of Oak Grove employees have about three years of experience with the city.

"That's not typical for government," said Misty Cutshall, Oak Grove public works director. "Usually in government you will see people with 15 - 20 years of experience."

Of the city's 62 employees on payroll, which includes water department staff, about 44 are full-time, Cutshall said.

Part of the city's high turnover rate when it comes to employees is inherent because of the transient nature of military family members hired to work for the city, she said.

"We also have police officers and water operators who leave Oak Grove, because they can go to other places and get treated better and make more money," Cutshall said.

In the 2019-2020 City of Oak Grove budget recently passed by city council, funds were designated to hire The Mercer Group to develop a compensation plan for the city. Cutshall said this is a step in the right direction.

The city's compensation plan was last reviewed about four years ago. The city is using job descriptions in the 2015 compensation plan that were not passed, said Theresa Jarvis, city of Oak Grove mayor.

Until now, city council has approved city employees' salaries when passing the annual budget.

"If (city council) doesn't understand it and they set a pay scale, we lose employees because (the council) doesn't always see the value in the employees we have or need … the licensings they need to do a job, the experience they have to do it," Cutshall said. "With the council deciding how much the pay is, but not understanding the actual workload on a person, it can be pretty difficult. Having a professional coming in to do this will let the council see what we need to do to keep employees here."

The new compensation plan also will allow Oak Grove to be competitive in the local labor market including Hopkinsville and Clarksville, she said.

"Happy employees produce more. That's just a fact," she said. "We need our employees and we need them to stay. They want to do their jobs and they want to do a good job at it."

Having a high turnover rate among city employees not only affects the culture at city hall, but also is an added expense to the city through the cost of equipment, uniforms and training, Cutshall said.

"We have to have competent employees with proper licenses who keep us out of trouble with the state and federal government. We need to reduce the cost in all the training that goes along with high turnover rate," she said. "We need to gain efficiencies by having employees actually stay here for a little while and be able to pass on information. That's something that's always hurt us, because we don't have that."

The city's cost associated with the high turnover rate also includes each employee's retirement fund.

Cutshall said the city pays into a retirement fund along with each city employee. Employees do not receive money from the retirement fund unless they stay with the city for at least six years. After the 6-year mark, they are considered vested with the city, Cutshall said.

When an employee leaves his position before becoming vested at the 6-year anniversary, all funds paid into the retirement fund by the city are lost, she said.

"We are losing that money when we don't hire good people to begin with, which means you have to pay a decent wage and keep them here," Cutshall said. "That way the money the city is spending out of general fund money and sending to the state for retirement, comes back to us."

The city is throwing away money by not investing in high-quality employees and increasing the retention rate, Jarvis said.

"We need to create an environment where employees want to stay 6, 10, 15 or 20 years so we can get that money back," Cutshall said.

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