Credibility an issue

By From page A4 | May 28, 2014

In a May 19 editorial titled “Where’s the beef?” we took note of the following:

“The ‘Climate Assessment Summary of Issues’ filed April 24 by the independent consultant hired by the county at a cost of $140,000 puts the allegation of a ‘culture of fear’ into the category of fantasy. Page 2A of the 34-page summary categorizes these whining malcontents when it noted that 3 percent of current and former county employees surveyed were ‘very dissatisfied’ and 14 percent were ‘dissatisfied.’”

We’ll repeat the conclusions of our analysis of the survey, because the facts are indisputable, but as will be explained later, there is some confusion in the way they were presented.

“On the question of ‘general satisfaction with your employment with El Dorado County,’ 41 percent were ‘satisfied,’ 23 percent were neutral and 19 percent ‘very satisfied.’”

We repeat this because the consultant — Van Dermyden Maddux Law Corp. — told the Board of Supervisors April 28 that while 60 percent of the respondents were satisfied, “The bad news” is that “40 percent are not happy,” said Sue VanDermyden.

Forty percent “not happy!” Did she not even read her own survey? How does anyone include the 23 percent neutral in the “not happy” crowd? To put it mildly, this is misconstruing the report.

In TV-newspaper polls, “no opinion” is just that. It doesn’t count either way. In a survey such as this one, “neutral” does not count as dissatisfied. It is a group that is satisfied enough with their county employment to not express any dissatisfaction. These people count as part of the satisfied. The employees who are satisfied, very satisfied and have no complaint about their civil service-protected jobs add up to 83 percent.

Also at the April 28 meeting, VanDermyden said many employees are working in a “culture of fear” and frequent comments included “fear of retaliation, harassment, discrimination (or a) hostile work environment.”

Electronic surveys were sent to 1,934 current and former employees and 1,228 responded, though there was no break-out of how many were currently employed and how many and how long ago the former employees were employed. The survey lacked standard survey tabs.

The survey sorted out 297 employees (23.7 percent) who responded they were uncomfortable reporting their concerns. It then divided them into six categories according to those who checked the boxes for “feared retaliation” — 11.4 percent; “not believe their complaint would effect change” — 4.8 percent; “favoritism”  — 1.4 percent; uncomfortable reporting — 1.5 percent; worried about “confidentiality” of a complaint — eight employees for 0.65 percent; and finally reluctant to talk to management 2.2 percent.

Let us repeat an item from the category above: 11.4 percent of all the survey respondents “feared retaliation.” That is 140 out of 1,228. That in no way adds up to a “climate of fear.”

In all the categories cited in the previous paragraph, the consultant gave the total number of employees in each category with the caveat of “approximately.” Why is there not a precise number of employees? Who checked each box? Did the consultants assign responses to specific categories because of some subjective criteria?

It’s pretty subjective when the consultant calls the 23 percent “neutral” as “not happy.” It calls into question the credibility of the entire survey, if not its methodology, which appears to have a specific slant, in our overall reading of this so-called “Climate Assessment.”

The county ought to ask for its $140,000 back.

Mountain Democrat

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