City department heads should be working to prepare workers to take over bigger jobs

Published 9:50 am Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Monday’s decision by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to privatize the operations of the city’s water treatment plant on Haining Road represents a change in the way the board has decided to do business and is also a warning of problems the city could face in the future as its key employees leave, either for better paying jobs or through retirement.

While privatization, or outsourcing, of city services like utilities is a new phenomenon for Vicksburg, it’s becoming a common practice for many municipalities across the country as cities address the challenge of providing services to their constituents at the least possible cost in the face of a sluggish economy, and utilities, with their cost of operation and maintenance and need for specially trained employees are good candidates for privatization.

And that leads to the reason the board took the action it did.

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The city did not have a certified operator to replace the plant director who resigned to take another job, and as Mayor George Flaggs Jr. put it, “None of our personnel, who have been there over time with the city operating the water plant, are eligible or near being eligible to certify themselves to become that operator. That means only one thing — we’re going to have to contract out.”

Since taking office, Flaggs has complained about the city’s failure to train and prepare city employees to move up and take over for supervisors and technicians in their respective departments when they leave, and the water treatment plant’s situation is a good example.

Somewhere back in time, another employee should have been trained and become state-certified to be able to step in when the vacancy occurred and take over operations, saving the city from having to contract with a company to have a certified operator and from having to take the step it took Monday. Who knows now what other city department will end up in the same situation as the water treatment plant in the next day, week, or month.

It’s time the board took action and began requiring city department heads to do whatever it takes to get employees trained to take over when someone leaves.

It’s crucial the city has a program in place to train its workers in the management and technical skills necessary to become supervisors and operators.

South Ward Aldermen Willis Thompson put the city’s situation correctly, “Sometimes when you’re reduced down to one or two people who know anything about the whole operation, I think that’s a danger in itself. We just can’t be in a position where we are held hostage by an individual.”