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New Beginning for Sandy Springs Brings Unwanted Change for Many Employees

During Sandy Springs' transition to new services, some have been concerned about CH2M Hill employees.

Usually there are three sides to every story. In Sandy Springs’ transition of services from CH2M Hill to the new contractors there are three sides, at the very least - the City, the contractors and CH2M Hill staff.

During the transition, some have been concerned about CH2 employees. And at last week’s City Council meeting, resident Bill Gannon asked Council members if employees had been notified about offers to stay on with the new contractors for general government services.  

“…I just wanted to know what the status is of that follow up,” he said. “Because Gabriel [Councilman Sterling], you mentioned you didn’t want to have a situation where it is late June and people didn’t know what was going to happen, and it is late June.”

There was no response.  

In fact, according to CH2M Hill, as late as June 23, some staff didn’t know if they would still have a job come July 1.

“Many are seeking employment elsewhere under the assumption that they are not going to receive offers,” said Paul Demit, vice president at CH2M Hill. “Either they were specifically told they were not going to receive an offer, or they received no indication from the new contractor that they are being considered for a position.”

Some employees were given offers, while others are still unsure of their future with the city.

Councilwoman Dianne Fries said she was disappointed that offer letters went out at late dates. “I understand why it took longer, but I was very sympathetic of how the employees felt,” she said. “They had several weeks of uncertainty and uncertainty makes you tense. It’s one of those things that happens with the transition.”

Fries said a 60-day transition period would have been better than 30 days.

Out With the Old….

The new contractors are The Collaborative, which will provide Communications and Community Development; Jacobs Engineering Group over Municipal Court Services and Recreation and Parks; and URS Corporation runs Public Works.

Severn Trent Services oversees Financial Services and InterDev manages Information Services.

According to data provided by the City Manager's office most CH2 employees will stay on with the new companies. Some staff have complained to Sandy Springs Patch about pay cuts. 

Ed Shoucair, co-owner of The Collaborative said salary decreases in Communications and Community Development has been as minimal as possible.

“During our interviews some senior staff said they felt the importance of keeping the core team together, that they were willing to consider [taking] a salary cut to make those funds available...,” said Shoucair. “That was a message to us that these people are dedicated and really had a bigger goal in mind.”

Public Works has the most steep staff cuts with nearly half of the department personnel, including all senior management gone. Outgoing Public Works director, Tom Black was hired in the same role, in Johns Creek.

New Sandy Springs Public Works director Kevin Walter explained that replacing a layer of staff was the nature of the City’s Request for Proposals process. “They asked for key people [presented in the proposal] to demonstrate that they could run the department,” Walter said. “It was up to us to propose one or 20 new people.”

URS had its own five senior management staff in the proposal, Walter said. Each had to sign commitment letters. 

“When you bring in new managers. Some of the old managers are without an equivalent job [and salary],” Walter added. 

Councilwoman Fries said CH2 would not provide employees' salary information when Council was compiling fact finding data needed for the RFP. "They said that was proprietary informaton. So we had to get ranges from another source," she said.

In a unique case like Sandy Springs, CH2M Hill staff, says morale has been low after five dedicated years of work. 

“We built human relationships and we were so good at that,” said a CH2M Hill employee, who did not want their name revealed.

“We were in the community, meeting citizens, knocking on doors. Once you lose that incumbent knowledge, that will be gone. That’s why it’s so hard to hear [City Council] say it’s just about money. That’s not true because they are buying new trucks and police cars, when before those kind of things were leased,” the employee said.

The staffer complained that meanwhile some job offers came with as much as a 25 percent decrease in pay. 

“That’s where people were 10 years ago and it’s a huge slap in the face,” the employee said.

The Process

The City selected the lowest bid in all of the awarded contracts and expects to save about $7 million per year. 

From the beginning, the concept of services for citizens was to have competition, said Oliver Porter, who helped to create the City of Sandy Springs.

“I think the citizens have shown they are pretty happy with that they’ve received [over the last five years],” he said. “So I think it’s a little bit of a risk to break the contract into little pieces the way it’s been done. It will require a lot more oversight to manage, whereas before there was only one place to go if you had a problem.”

[Porter is not involved in city politics or the bidding for new services.]

City Councilman Tibby DeJulio also talked of the importance of competition.

“What happened was CH2 was not the low bidder and to be responsible for the people of Sandy Springs, it’s [City Council’s] responsibility to make the competitive system work,” he said.

DeJulio served on the Contracts Committee with Mayor Eva Galambos and Councilman John Paulson. The committee looked at price only after they determined which companies met their criteria, he said.  

“Price was submitted separately. The price came in a sealed envelope and was put in a safe that nobody had access to. After all the evaluations were done, then the prices were looked at. It wasn’t a situation where we looked at a price and said, ‘Oh it’s them,’ “ DeJulio said.

Since the new contracts were awarded, some employees, who were notified that they were not being kept on, have moved from City Hall over to CH2M Hill offices. Demit said the company will try to find new positions for all staff that didn’t receive offer letters, or they will be laid-off with a severance package.

“With every individual we are working diligently to find them opportunities. We couldn’t be more proud of those individuals and the way they’ve conducted themselves. And they continue to work hard for the city right up to June 30,” Demit said.

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