Dust up at Social Services prompts Supervisors to Create Department Recommendations

Imperial Chief Executive Officer Ralph Cordova Jr. (center) presented the Board of Supervisors with several recommendations to improve the Social Services Department

EL CENTRO – Subsequent to receiving a letter of “no confidence” from Teamsters Union local 542 representatives in April, the Board of Supervisors directed the County Executive Officer and the County Counsel to take action and review employee concerns related to the Department of Social Services (DSS). Ralph Cordova Jr., county executive officer. instructed the counsel to survey the DSS.

It began on April 26, during public comments, Business Agent for the Teamsters Union local 542, Ruth Duarte, approached the board, read and submitted a letter of “no confidence” signed by several Social Services Department employees expressing their vote of no confidence for department director Peggy Price and the ways she manages the department.

The letter stated that since Price was named director, the department had lost confidence in her leadership and employees had experienced poor treatment and hostile work environments causing them much stress. It also pointed out that the merit list was not being respected and employees were passed over for promotions in addition to heavier workloads due to unfilled vacancies. The letter asked for the board’s assistance in looking into the matter.

Cordova shared the previously ordered survey with the room.

“Of the 87 percent of employees that participated in the survey, more than 58 percent of the responders stated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their job in the past year, and 64 percent stated that they wanted to stay at DSS and 71 percent felt that there were some or many opportunities for meeting their career goals at DDS,” said Cordova.

Cordova also pointed out that while the results were positive, it was clear that there was a need for improvement.

“There is low morale due to office politics or personal relations within the division, workload and working conditions,” explained Cordova. “The lack of communication among management and between units relating to changes to the organization also played a large role in the dissatisfaction.”

As a result of the assessment, the county executive officer and the county council presented the board with eight recommendations to be implemented which included a 3-year strategic plan.

Other recommendations included team building to improve team cohesiveness and cooperation, management skill enhancement that clearly state routine functions, conduct leadership training and executive coaching for management, implementing clear lines of communication between management and staff, career advancement opportunities, review and address current facility environments and review and allocation of resources among divisions focused on the needs of employees and the public.

With a 5-0 vote, the board agreed and approved the CEO’s recommendations during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“I commend this board for taking swift action when a potential issue came before us and we did, in fact, institute a very clean and fair assessment of the situation with respect to the Department of Social Services and I think it reflects the fact that maybe there’s a little dust, but it’s clean, and it’s a livable dwelling,” said Michael Kelley, District-3 Supervisor.

Kelley also said moving forward with the recommendations would ensure DDS staff the board was responding to their concerns.

“I think it was a successful resolution for a potentially hazardous issue,” said Kelley.

District-4 Supervisor Ryan Kelley agreed with Michael Kelley saying the board had learned a lot from the experience. He suggested a county-wide employee engagement survey to address other potential issues.

“I hope that the director, the executive director and the deputy director hopefully get this message that this is not a witch hunt, this is just doing something that is correct and right, to get to the bottom of an issue and not bury our heads in the sand,” said John Renison, District-1 Supervisor.

District-5 Supervisor Raymond Castillo said communication was certainly the key to a successful department.

The Imperial County Department of Social Services administers federal, state and locally-funded social welfare programs to residents of Imperial County, including MediCal, CalFresh, CalWorks, General Relief, In-Home Supportive Services, Children and Family Services, and the Children’s Shelter. THe mission of the department is to “strengthen families, support self-sufficiency, and promote safety, health and well-being.  The fiscal year 2015-16 DSS budget was approximately $90 million including 514 allocated positions. Nearly one-half of DSS staff have worked in the department for 10 years or more.