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State employee input program languishes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A program designed to let state employees have more input into running their agencies has had promising results, but a 2010 order by then-Gov. Joe Manchin to expand the program to all state agencies has not been implemented, legislators learned Wednesday.

The "meet-and-consult" project at the state's 10 regional jails is "an opportunity to have a voice, to be part of the process," said Elaine Harris, Communications Workers of America representative.

"It's important that employees feel a sense of responsibility, that they feel a part of the decision-making," Harris told the interim Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary. "I think it's something that can work."

Kris Mallory, a representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said a meet-and-consult project with Division of Highways employees statewide also shows promise.

"Any time workers have a voice, and they actively participate in solving workplace problems, it ultimately results in better administration," Mallory said.

However, he said interest in the program has waned among some DOH employees, after sending recommendations "up the chain" but often not getting responses from division administrators.

"Many times it's, 'That sounds great, and I'll get back to you,' but they never do," he said. "[The project] started out with great wings, but it has lost some feathers, and it's soared down."

Mallory and Harris have served as facilitators on meet-and-consult committees.

As governor, Manchin started meet-and-consult pilot projects for DOH, the regional jails and the state General Services and Purchasing divisions in 2007.

At the time, Manchin said, he envisioned the employee committees following the model of the Toyota plant in Putnam County, where employees on the assembly line work with management as a team to resolve problems and improve workplace efficiency.

In 2010, Manchin signed an executive order to expand meet-and-consult to all state agencies. But by year's end, Manchin had become a U.S. senator, and then-Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin was acting as governor.

Mallory said he believes the Tomblin administration supports expanding meet-and-consult to all state agencies in due time.

But he said it would be better to have the Legislature enact meet-and-consult as a state law.

"If another administration comes in and doesn't like parts of the system, or doesn't like meet and consult ... everything could go by the wayside," Mallory said.

He also endorsed a recommendation from Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, to request that the Legislature receive progress reports and updates from the meet-and-consult committees.

"I think that would be great," Mallory said. "The process has been that recommendations go to the cabinet secretary and they keep things in house."

He said agency heads would probably be more responsive to recommendations from meet-and-consult committees knowing that lawmakers would be reviewing the progress reports.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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