Originally created 04/22/01

City's search for employees has high price



Putting a figure on the knowledge and experience lost in Augusta's government when a department head leaves can be difficult.

The cost of luring candidates to replace them does have a price tag, and according to city accounting records, turnover during the past 10 months has been pretty expensive.

Since June, some of the city's most high-profile employees have left, including the city administrator, the director of human resources, the director of information technology, the city comptroller and two fire chiefs.

Finding candidates to replace them has cost taxpayers more than $40,000 - so far.

Much of that cost can be attributed to the search for a new city administrator: In addition to hiring an executive search company at a cost of $25,000, the city also has spent $5,564 reimbursing six semifinalist candidates to travel to Augusta for interviews. Part of that reimbursement included a $2,115 roundtrip plane ticket from Vancouver, Wash., to Augusta by one semifinalist.

The city spent $1,677 at the Radisson Inn Suites hotel on Washington Road to rent a conference room for interviews and to pay for coffee and snacks.

The $32,241 price tag for the city administrator's search exceeded by more than $8,000 the total cost of posting daily newspaper ads for job openings citywide during 2000.

"We're trying to recruit aggressively, but money is a factor," said Human Resources Director Brenda Byrd-Pelaez, who was hired in January. "You can spend a lot of money in advertising if you don't pay attention."

When lower-ranking job positions become vacant, the city typically places an advertisement in The Augusta Chronicle and sometimes in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

These ads cost, on average, about $446 each time they run, the accounting department reports. The city sometimes chooses to run the same ad more than once, depending on response.

Last year, the city spent $23,400 on newspaper job postings.

Department director positions are more costly because they require placing additional advertisements in trade journals and on specialized Web sites. And newspaper ads for managerial positions are lengthier and more prominent, Ms. Byrd-Pelaez said.

For instance, the city spent $2,230.81 advertising for the human resources director's position, which was vacant for five months before Ms. Byrd-Pelaez was hired. Several newspaper ads, plus job postings in human resources management publications, escalated the cost far above average.

The cost of conducting a national search for a fire chief was more than $2,800. Advertising for the position cost $1,630, including a $1,000 ad placed on the Web site, www.firehouse.com, according to invoices on file with the city.

The city also reimbursed two of the three fire chief finalists more than $1,200 to travel to Augusta for interviews with commissioners. The travel expenses of former Fire Chief Bernard Mack were not on file in the accounting department.

The April 6 resignation of Chief Mack after three months on the job will set the same search process in motion again. He resumed his old job as a battalion chief in the Philadelphia Fire Department last Monday.

"The main thing now is figuring out, `How do we cut costs and continue to attract the best people?"' Ms. Byrd-Pelaez said. "We're debating what is the best way."

Making use of the city's Web site and advertising in government publications that offer free advertising are two ways to cut costs, she said.

Although a certain amount of money is recouped in lapsed salary when a position is vacant, those savings go directly into the general fund and not back to that department. Each department is responsible for paying for job postings out of its own budget.

The finance department has spent more than $1,500 advertising to fill the director's position, which became open after Augusta Commission voted to fire Comptroller Lon Morrey in January.

And filling the information technology director's position has cost the department $1,144 in advertising.

Other less visible but high-ranking positions that have opened recently include the city's landfill director, the fleet manager and the director of trees and landscaping.

"The cost of advertising is controlled by the medium you use, and there's not a whole lot you can do other than not run ads," said Mayor Bob Young. "If you're going to draw the best people, you're going to have to spend the money to attract them."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.

High costs

Each time the city loses an employee, it costs money to find a replacement. Luring director-level candidates is even more costly. Here's a look at the money spent on high-level positions that have come open in the past 10 months:

City administrator:$25,000 to hire an executive search firm

$5,564 to reimburse candidates for travel expenses

$1,677 for a conference room and food at Radisson Inn Suites

Total: $32,241

Fire chief:$1,630 in advertising costs

$1,288 to reimburse candidates for travel expenses

Total: $2,918

Human resources director:$2,230 in advertising costs

Finance director (still open to receive applicants):$1,547 in advertising costs

Information technology director:$1,144 in advertising costs