County workers' biggest concern is that the Stoffa administration just doesn't care what happens to them. I found that out last week, when I first started sticking my big nose into this matter. Let me tell you what I've learned over the past week.
1. First, the good news. No asbestos contamination.
Whatever it is, it's not asbestos.
Last Friday, after hearing asbestos concerns from several courthouse employees, I called the state DEP. Within an hour, my call was returned, and the courthouse was inspected that day by investigator Don Kehler. He assured me that the precautionary measures taken by Butz don't just meet, but exceed, what is required by law. Anyone with concerns or fears about asbestos should call Kehler directly. His phone is 610-861-2079. Unlike me, he knows what he's talking about.
2. Butz has been sloppy in its renovations, creating a dust problem.
The county's director of public works, Steve DeSalva, has only been on the job for three months. But in that time, he has repeatedly admonished Butz over its lax attitude towards dust and debris. Obviously, Butz is under pressure because it is both over budget and behind schedule. There's a temptation to cut corners.
Last week, DeSalvo gave Butz an ultimatum to get its dust under control. As he explained the situation in layman's terms to me, Butz "needs a boot in the ass." He's also asked the court administrator for help in getting this under control.
DeSalvo told me the contractor must make a better effort to block ventilators in a construction area. Their goal is to keep dust at a minimum and out of the hallways. "Once dust is in the hallways, it will be circulated through the building. You won't see it, but it will be there." Employees should not have to see a fog of particles. DeSalvo also made clear that safety is his primary concern.
If you see something that doesn't seem right to you, I'd suggest you give his office a call. His number is 610-559-3197.
3. County Administrators Will Listen to Complaints.
Last week, when I first hinted about this problem, I posted an employee's sincere criticism that the Stoffa administration has been distant and unresponsive. That prompted a response from Bill Hillanbrand, Stoffa's director of court offices. His office is not on the fourth floor with the other hotshots. He instead chose an office in the most contaminated office of all - register of wills. Here's what Bill said in the wee morning hours.
"It's 2:50 a.m., and I am awake. I am concerned that an employee feels that the administration does not care about their employees. I am also a county worker. ... If any county worker wishes to contact me, stop me in the hallway of the courthouse; phone me 610-559-3091; or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or come to my office. My office is located in the basement with Orphan's Court. I am not a miracle worker, but I will do the best I can to help. Thanks, Bill"
Bill's hearfelt comment demonstrates that the Stoffa administration, contrary to popular opinion, does care.
On Monday, I went down to the public defender's office, where employees have suffered for weeks. They were packing their stuff. Stoffa told them to clear out. One employee is working from home, and the office is being relocated during construction. This is yet another demonstration that the administration does care about courthouse workers.
And guess what? The Butz employee whose sole job was mopping hallways, has magically reappeared.
4. County Administrators and Workers Need to Open up Lines of Communication.
Although county administrators genuinely care about the people who work at the courthouse, morale is very bad. Now, more than ever, it's important to open up lines of communication with rank and file workers. Stoffa and his inner circle need to circulate much more around the courthouse. County administrators should be tell people about asbestos instead of letting them find out about it by seeing a sign or some guy who's wearing all kinds of protective clothing and a mask. Some have suggested a weekly newsletter, but nothing is better than personal contact.
Communication must improve. And that's a two-way street.