City Government

More Poop On Sewer Plant

Insiders tell us there have been some “come to Jesus” meetings with about half of Boise’s employees, including those at the Public Works Department’s sewage treatment facilities.

These group ethics training sessions were prompted by the scandals during the previous city administration which saw several leaders go to jail. To his credit, Mayor Dave Bieter is apparently making good on a campaign promise to return ethics to government.

Employees, past and present raised questions about a couple of mid level Boise sewage plant managers running the private Hidden Springs sewage treatment plant while moonlighting on a private contract.

The GUARDIAN was presented with reports of actions readers felt were “illegal, unethical, conflicts of interest, naughty, or fattening.”

We have been assured by city officials that everything is being done according to the rules and all parties in the sewer treatment plants have been advised about moonlighting policies. City officials apparently see no problem with supervisors hiring underlings to work off duty …kinda iffy in some circles.

What city workers do on their own time should be of no concern to management–as long as it does not conflict with their city obligations. In order to know if there is a conflict, we think disclosure of all part time jobs should be made as a condition of employment.

Selling skills or training obtained at taxpayer expense for personal gain pushes the envelope in our opinion. Examples would be cops testify as expert witnesses in civil cases based on their employment and training, arson investigators working for insurance companies, sewer experts taking trouble calls at work for private companies, building inspectors working for those they inspect, planners “consulting” for developers etc.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Concerned Insider
    Mar 12, 2006, 10:15 am

    I maintain there is no problem with any employee’s moon lighting on their own time.

    It’s not all just employees renting out their city obtained skills. In some cases these moon lighters are able go out on their own, build upon their city skills and actually bring something of value back to the city work place. In other cases they are doing something totally non-related to their work at the city.

    However, there is a HUGE conflict of interest when city employee conducts any part of their business on city time or uses city owned equipment. Worse yet, using city employees in any way during working hours to provide services for their private business, i.e., taking phone calls and other duties.

    In addition, there really is a serious problem in hiring “underlings” to work for them while off duty. It can also be the makings of an employee lawsuit if the city doesn’t wake up to how serious it is.

    What if the underling was to say “no” to the manager’s after hours request, how does this non-team player attitude affect his job at the city? What happens if something goes wrong on the after hours job for the underling working for his city manager, does the pain he caused his city manager on his own time affect his work city job work performance? The list goes on.

    Because of the power a manager holds over their employees, there are a number of things they can not do with them after hours.

    This was all part of the city provided ethics training I had, I am sure nothing has changed and the city needs to have everyone follow the same rules.
    They won’t, but they should…

    Ethics training is now provided by HR, is tailored, incomplete, and leaves much to be desired.

  2. Conflict of interest: (?)

    What — like somebody’s gonna be working for the competition?

  3. Ah yes, the much vaunted Ethics Training!

    It would be easier to take seriously if they had someone with actual ethics conducting the trainings.

    Come to think of it…

  4. Concerned Insider has some very good points as does the Guardian…

    In the case of the two Public Works managers having a contract to take care of Hidden Springs 24/7 sewage treatment plant needs, selling packaged treatment plants and who knows what else, I would have to wonder how they can do it and not have it interfere with their city duties. Didn’t we have that very problem with the city’s purchasing manager under Coles and Lyman?
    Could it be that he didn’t get the protection that these managers are getting?

    I would also have deep concerns for any employees that might be working for the same customers they serve as city employees. That would be like government meat inspectors moon lighting for the meat processing plants they inspect – not a good idea.

    How is it that the city is not concerned about this?

  5. So how do you control all the folks that use their personal cell phones to sell real estate, Amway, EBAY, and conduct other business while on city property or during their workday? The only way to know is to have a full disclosure policy.

    How do we know that city vehicles are not used to drive to close home sales after work? Or that city officers do not use city issued equipment for off-duty activities? Without full disclosure the city can simply not tell who is doing what with city resources or on city time.

  6. If everybody was just willing to have their phones bugged we wouldn’t have a problem with moonlighting ethics. George Bush is right, only the guilty or those contemplating a crime would object to government domestic spying. How about expanding our police force with a uniformed “ethics police unit”. We’d all be more free and more ethical. That’s a good thing.

  7. I guess Garden City had this kind of problem, with public works employees actually using government vehicles on their own time and “borrowing” equipment.

    As an aside, I’ve heard Garden City wants to privatize this whole aspect of their government.

    I’m going to guess that Public Works departments in particular have problems because their employees have skills that aren’t always easy to find in the private sector, and they have ready access to lots of tools, vehicles, etc.

    That being said, the employees I know in Boise City Public Works are awesome and I’ve had great service whenever I’ve had to call about something.

  8. There will always be a means for an employee to cheat the system and employees to make it happen.

    However, you don’t allow it to continue once it’s been discovered and you don’t make allowances for it to continue, preferred employees or not.

    The farm manager problems went on far too long and involved too much money for it not to of been known by senior management and now employee complaints of wrong doing about these other two managers in the same department…

    We’re not hearing a complaint about the activities of management in the city’s other departments, just Public Works.

    What is wrong with this picture???

  9. Text in parentheses was edited for libel and clarity.
    (If you think Boise is bad, take a look at Garden City PW Dept.)

    Also, the last that I heard Boise public works employees could still “check out” small tools for personal use. Not quite in the same league as Garden City where they could take what ever they wanted.

    ED NOTE–Are you saying taxpayers are paying for a free “tool library” for employees, but not for the citizens who bought the tools??

  10. Regarding Homer’s comments.

    He is correct, Public Works employees who are part of Operations Division can check out tools. Hand tools, power tools, etc…

    So, if you happen to have this moon lighting business, need some rather special tools and happen to work in Operations Division – just go check out what you need. Sweet deal…

    How do you think work gets done at these treatment plants of Hidden Springs and other locations? You don’t think they would invest their own money in equipment and tools do you?

    The only time anyone outside the city would be the wiser is if they needed to use equipment mounted on one of the trucks. Didn’t someone spot a city vehicle out at Hidden Springs?

    This is all manager approved employee benefits.

  11. Mayor McCheese
    Mar 14, 2006, 10:27 am

    Please don’t go branding all city employees with this!

    Public Works management is more often than not the real culprit. I am not saying all of them are bad, but they know who they are.

  12. I noticed that there is a Lead Plant Mechanic position that is open at one of the Waste Water Treatment Plants. Maybe everyone could apply and someone here could have the same benefits. Unless you lack the qualifications, that is…

    I once worked for a City Sewer Department. We used to come in at 0630 and take lunch at 1100 to 1130 and got off at 1700. We would just eat lunch at our jobsite since we all brought our lunches. The town was dominated by citizens that had strong views on almost everything. City Hall would get calls about City crews sitting around at 1100. When they were told that we took our lunch then, some people responded that it didn’t look right to have us sitting on a tailgate at that time. Our spineless Mayor directed us to take lunch at 1200 and to come back to the City Sewer Shop. This extended our lunch from 1200 to almost 1300. We finally got tired of wasting the time and gas and we would just eat a bite here and there as we worked.

    The moral of the story is that not all City employees are out to shaft the taxpayers.

    ED NOTE–Luddite and Mayor McCheese offer some sound advice. GUARDIAN is concerned that a positive posting like this one has generated so many negative comments and apparently from folks in the know.

  13. Concerned Insider
    Mar 14, 2006, 6:52 pm

    I do work for a city sewer department and I can tell you I’ve never worked with better.

    There have been three different mid level managers identified with questionable activities, one of which has already been indicted and awaiting his day in court. All of these managers have the same thing in common; they work for the same division within the same department. This is obviously a management issue at all levels.

    Employees who have gone to HR have gotten no where, just as the Guardian found when it tried to bring the matter to the city’s attention. This has been a no win situation for those who want to do the right thing. There has been no place go, no place to turn to and if the mayor had his way whistle blowers would be banned from the face of the earth.

  14. One of my relatives worked for the Operations Div. of PW for years. The Ops. Div. is by far the largest Div. in PW and has had the same manager since the early 90’s. All of the “mid-level” managers mentioned in connection with the poop farm and Hidden Springs work for the Ops. manager. In my opinion, this man would have to be truly ignorant, really stupid, or both, to not be completely aware of these “goings on”. Frankly, I don’t believe that he is either the former or the latter and as far I have seen, is “in it” up to his neck. As far as the lack of response from HR goes, this same Ops. manager has, for some reason, a tremendous amount of “clout” at HR and no “good” HR employee would cross swords with him. My suggestion is, “Cut off the head (of Ops.) and the rest of the snake dies.

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