By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – The COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to reimagine how they operate, ushering in the idea of remote working.
Over the past year and a half, numerous city employees have been afforded this opportunity, and a unanimous vote on the new remote work policy at the Sept. 7 City Council meeting will continue the option going forward.
“I think as is often the case in the public sector, we are trailing the private sector in some of the innovations that they have been able to implement with regards to flexibility of work,” Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich said. “COVID certainly forced us to move as quickly as possible for health reasons to make remote work possible. Now we are taking the step to sort of formalizing that, putting in place a nice policy.”
According to the policy, an employee whose job requires face-to-face communication – such as in the police, fire and transit departments – are ineligible for remote work.
Human Resource Director Joe Faulds said it will be a case-by-case decision for eligible positions.
“The employee will meet with the supervisor and talk about the days they can remote work and talk about what projects they can get done, and the supervisor will evaluate it and decide if remote work is right for the position or not,” Faulds said. “It is as simple as that.”
The policy also excludes probationary employees or employees who’ve had issues with their work.
Faulds said of the approximately 200 or so city hall employees, most would be eligible for remote work.
“I think about any given moment, maybe it’s about 25% to a third of those employees are remote working,” he said. “It is a week-to-week adjustment. What we’ve talked about was a hybrid model, where some employees are working at home and some are working in the office. And that really started as a COVID-19 precaution. And now we are just trying to move that forward with the hybrid model.”
District 10 Alderperson Mark Steuer said part of the conversation is looking at the efficiencies of city government.
“Just having that face-to-face contact, of course, is very important,” Steuer said.
Faulds said every employee has the opportunity to work in the office, but the policy gives employees the option of remote working, if interested and their position allows for it.
District 6 Alderperson Kathy Lefebvre said she sees the policy as an important tool for retaining employees.
“There are those that are going to be concerned about what is going on with (COVID-19),” she said. “I think this is a good move for our city and it shows that we do value all of our employees.”
Alderpersons approved a small increase to the annual target goal for resurfacing/reconstructing local roads from 1.45% to 1.6% of total city roads, beginning in 2022.
The request originally came from District 8 Alderperson Chris Wery, who called for an increase to 3%.
“This has obviously been something we have been discussing for years and years it feels like – roads and roadwork,” Wery said. “I’m sure every municipality does. I’ll admit, I’m disappointed. It’s less, far less than what I thought we were doing. I thought we were at 2% and to see we were at 1.45% was kind of disheartening when we know De Pere is doing 3%, 3 1/2%, almost 4% some years. I’m not saying we have to be there. But it is nice to have a goal where you can inch toward it.”
Director of Public Works Steve Grenier said road resurfacing/reconstructing includes subsurface utilities, such as water and sewer.
More than doubling the annual target, Grenier said, would increase taxes and water and sewer rates.
“Seeing it all laid out, you understand it is not just us,” Wery said. “It is the water department and it’s the sewer, you have to coordinate. So, we might want to jump a percent or a percent-and-a-half, but what that does to the others, it is just not financially feasible, quite frankly.”
Wery said the increase to 1.6% is an increase the city should be able to absorb internally, as far as planning and supervisory.
“We are talking in general terms,” Grenier said. “I think we might be able to. We are definitely going to give it a try.”
Wery said the city needs to continue to track the percentage each year and slowly inch it forward, because “people really want their road work done.”
District 9 Alderperson Brian Johnson said addressing the issue long-term isn’t going to be fixed at a local level.
“If you talk to a lot of other municipalities throughout the state, they are all kind of going through this same struggle right now,” Johnson said. “Really, we need to start looking at our state and federal representatives, and this isn’t about making excuses. I do like the fact that we can migrate and move what we can control at the local level. But what we can control (in terms of the resurfacing/reconstructing annual target increase) at the local level is .15%… Clearly, the condition of our roads is universally accepted that we need improvement there. How we get there is really where the gap is, the chasm that needs to be fixed. And at a local level, we can make a .15% decision. But we really need to figure out how we are going to appropriately engage our other elected officials to close that gap.”