Atlanta workers score high despite scandals


ATLANTA - In recent years, the city of Atlanta has had major police scandals, countless complains about its water department and rampant absenteeism in public works.

But a Channel 2 Action News investigation found that government managers consistently rate over half of Atlanta's employees as outstanding or highly effective.

In November 2006, a drug raid using a bogus search warrant resulted in the death of 88-year-old Kathryn Johnston and lead to an ugly scandal at the Atlanta Police Department.

Four officers ultimately went to prison, but performance reviews of nearly 2,000 officers and employees that year showed that only two in the department were deemed unacceptable.

Last fall, the city of Atlanta's public works department acknowledged that employee absenteeism is out of control.

On any given day, the department may have as few as three out of five workers on the job, which means taxpayers will spend well over a $1 million each year for overtime and extra workers.

Yet over four years, out of more than 3,200 evaluations, just 25 public works employees were scored as unacceptable or needs improvement.

"It doesn't even rise to the level of one percent, which is just completely implausible," said City Councilman Howard Shook.

Shook told Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher that he started to ask for the department by department evaluations a few years ago. Shook told Belcher he was shocked at what he discovered. The downside for the city was obvious, she said.

"Someone with a rally bad track record, as an investigation might show, may show years, of you know, really exemplary reports," said Shook, "Whether it's true or not."

In the last five years, city managers rated 98.9 percent of employees as "effective," "highly effective" or "outstanding."

"We have thousands of employees who come to work every day and deliver exceptional service to our constituents," Atlanta's Human Resources Commissioner Yvonne Cowser Yancy told Belcher.

Yancy emphasized the exceptional work by city employees to Belcher. When Belcher asked about the rampant absenteeism in public works, Yancy offenders have been fired.

"If in fact we find an employee, despite our greatest efforts and their efforts, aren't able to do their work assigned, then we'll actively move them out of the organization," she said.

Yancy told Belcher about 1 percent of the city's work force is fired annually, about 80 people out of 7,500.

With government, taxpayers want accountability. In business stockholders and other investors demand it. Yancy said higher performance scores are to be expected in a city where the average worker has been employed 15 years.

Yancy also called Atlanta a government in transition.

"It takes a long time to change the culture of an organization, but we're well into that process, and I expect to have results to support that," said Yancy.

Channel 2 Action News

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