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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, May 30, 2008

Meet a Northampton County Worker

Her name is Darcel. She's one of many single mothers who work at the Northampton County Government Center. You don't read her name in the paper. But like most of her peers, she's very bright. In fact, she's currently finishing up her M.B.A. She also has lots of good ideas about improving her workplace. Unfortunately, Darcel and her colleagues are the last persons the suits ever talk to when they really want to know what is going on.

They hire consultants.

I've known Darcel a few years. I've watched as she worked her way through school. I've seen her walk to work in all kinds of weather, making sacrifices for her daughter. I've see her at the Easton library nearly every time I've visit that place. I'm very proud of Darcel's work ethic and educational achievement. It's been a long struggle for her, but she finally sees light at the end of the tunnel. Her proudest accomplishment, of course, is her daughter, who's pictured with her on this post.

Darcel works in the Civil Division and recently wrote a business plan for her department. She gave me permission to post it and you can read it, in its entirety, here. It's an intelligent and practical business perspective, from the ground level, on how to improve a county row office. She also has refreshing views on the inner workings of the courthouse. Here are a few excerpts.

Why did courthouse workers unionize?

Northampton County Courthouse employees have voted in a union because the employees want pay increases. Pay had not increased in the last three years and the treatment of the employees was getting abusive at the workplace. The employees needed a neutral party to help with the employment issues, bring in opportunities to allow seniority to play a factor in promotions on the job, and training sessions for employees to improve behavior on the job. When the contract was negotiated, the employees received pay increases, more added time for vacation hours, and other demands. Some employment issues are being discussed in the contract, such as, a disciplinary board that oversees the complaints from employees (neutral parties are evaluating the situation and rendering a decision in the matter). Cutting across these issues is concern for individual health. Northampton County Courthouse changed insurance carriers because the county believed that employees would benefit with the new changes.

How has technology impacted life for a courthouse worker?

Technology is a big factor at the Northampton County Courthouse because the county uses a computer system for daily activities. The computer system keeps a daily record of all activities within the courthouse. At the Civil Division (also known as the Prothonotary’s Office and Clerk of Courts – Civil), the public can come into the office to access any file that is not sealed by the courts. Thus, all firms, and most particularly those in turbulent growth industries, must strive for an understanding both of the existing technological advances and the probable future advances that can affect their products and services.

The Civil Division employees use the computer systems to make daily entries of filings and have access to email, but the employees cannot send civil documents to the public as attachments because the Civil Division does not have that kind of software package system like some of the other counties. For example, some counties offer civil documents on the Internet where the public can purchase civil docket entries and other civil document via credit card or Pay-Pal service along with filing electronic documents from attorneys and pro se individuals (individuals acting on their own behalf). The Civil Division will have to think of ways to please the public and to compete with the other counties with an upgraded computer software system.

How can the Civil Division be more responsive to the public?

With a limited income, consumers are living paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to pay the mortgage. Mortgage companies will be filing more complaints in foreclosures. The filings will increase to about 60% at the Civil Division in the next 10 years. The situation would cause employees to become overworked; absenteeism would increase; conflicts will increase amongst the employees and the office would be understaffed. The Civil Division will need to hire more employees. The department would need 12 additional employees (six to help with the Sheriff’s Sales and six to input the increased paperwork) plus the county will have to increase employee wages.

If an increase of unemployment occurs in the next five to ten years, domestic violence and divorce filings would increase. Some consumers will become frustrated and angry causing more domestic violence cases to be filed with the PFA (Protection From Abuse) office. The PFA office will need to hire more employees because the office would be understaffed; an increase in absenteeism; overworked and would cause conflicts amongst the employees. The opportunity would be to hire seven employees in the next ten years.

People like Darcel are what make Northampton County, and most small governments, work. We spend millions for consultants and studies, but the answers are often right under our noses.


Anonymous said...

More government employees are needed. This is an earth-shattering finding from a dedicated government employee.

You are correct about one thing. We don't need consultants to get this readily available and oft repeated advice.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You are correct about one thing. We don't need consultants to get this readily available and oft repeated advice.

That's right. Just ignore the practical and common-sense perspective of a person who actually works in a row office and might actually have some ideas on how to improve it.

Aren't we full of ourselves?

hayshaker said...

More government employees are needed. This is an earth-shattering finding from a dedicated government employee.

This will be the first person to complain when his needs are not being met quickly enough. He/she lives life oblivious to the world around him thinking the free market will fill each and every niche if only given the chance.

Anonymous said...

I once read that it costs around 90 cents to administer every dollar of federal aid. State and local governments aren't as bureaucratically laden, but it seems that many more dollars would actually go to those in need if government could operate more efficiently with lower costs.

I understand we're not discussing social services here, but the concepts are same. I suggest we'd be better served by better technology requiring fewer employees. The constant tilt toward headcount increases should not be dismissed out of hand, but should be resisted - unless all agree that efficiency is at or close to 100%.

I believe we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Actually, that is precisely what Darcel wrote in he expanded version. She believes advances in technology could actually reduce the need for additional staff as the economy continues to deteriorate.

Anonymous said...

And the advanced technology costs a lot of money and needs to be maintained by highly paid employees.

Anonymous said...

"...as the economy continues to deteriorate."

Bernie, yesterday the AP reported "US logs better but still weak growth". growth = no recession according to economists, even Democrat economists

Glenn said...

Great Job Bernie! Ms. Gibson is a great asset for the county, very professional and fun to interface with while she performs her duties with grace and humor. It's great that you have spotlighted her and her work, and given the background of her devotion to her daughter and continuing her education.

Thanks again, this is a tremendous community service that you provide in these internets.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bernie, yesterday the AP reported "US logs better but still weak growth".

You remind me of the boy who thought he saw a load of dog shit. He smelled it, rolled it around in his hands, even taster it. Then it said, "Boy, I'm sure glad I didn't step in that."

Our economy is in the tank, dude.

I understand that recession is defined as a decline in GDP for two consecutive quarters. Most US economists agree we're already in a deep recession and it's only a matter of time before the figures catch up with reality.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, I'd probably disagree with you as to whether we're technically in a recession or not, but it just doesn't matter.

The "psychology" of the situation is that the average person feels we're in a recession, therefore we are in a recession whether the economists say we're in one or not.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Hence the dog shit analogy. We may not technically be in a recession, but it sure feels like it. Plus, I read somewhere last year that certain crucial statistics are not considered, such as food costs. I may have that wrong, and can't find a link to anything one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

I think the food-cost issue you're referring to has to do with inflation rather than whether we're in a recession.

Food and energy costs are removed when calculating "core inflation." That's the figure you see referenced most often in the MSM.

That's why when I look at things, I pay close attention to the non-core numbers. Next to housing, food and energy costs eat the most of a consumer's paycheck. With the way they're increasing, the impact is a crushing one.

Anonymous said...

The problem is their solution is always make more jobs. Government employees at times are out of touch with the private sector and the fact that in a recession the last thing we need to do is increase government costs.
You seem to pick and choose who is worth listening too and who is not. I read some employees concerns about the County Executive and you slamed them. Let me guess this employee backed the guy you liked. I don't agree that the only solution is to hire more County employees who will get pay, benefits and a pension. Franky, it makes very little sense.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 7:17,

You did not read her business plan. I have a link to it on my blog. She pointed to trends that will make more staff necessary if nothing else is done. But she believes those trends can also be approached by automating the office as much as possible, which will ultimately result in downsizig. So she's actually advocating the exact opposite of what you suggest.

As far as her feelings about Stoffa are concerned, I never really sat down to talk to her about that. But I know she has a very poor opinion of his HR approach, so I'm sure she and I are not exactly on the same page. She may like Stoffa, but she certainly does not like some aspects of his administration.

I would not lump her in with me.

She is not so interested in politics - she is interested in her office and making it better. She is part of the glue that keeps the county together.

Anonymous said...

Facts? we don't need no stinkin facts! If BO says

"Our economy is in the tank, dude."

then it's gospel

Bernie O'Hare said...

You want facts? You know, I already agreed that we have not yet had two quarters in which the GDP has declined. But the economy is still in the tank. That's my personal experience. That's what ninety percent of US consumers think, too.

Even by the standard definition, eleven states. None other than Alan Greenspan believes recession is inevitable.

This is hardly controversial except to those wearing blinders or unwilling to do a simple google search. But it appears you're more interested in trying to take a shot than in the facts. Play your kiddy games somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

The belief of 90% of US consumers still does not constitute fact, nor does your personal experience, nor do conitions in 22% of states. There is no recession. There are pockets of economic hardship, there always are, and sometimes they are worse that at others.
But there is no recession.

Why on earth would you resort to name calling on this?

I think it's important to get it right, because, as the worst president in US history said, "it's the economy, stupid", so the stakes are high in the November lesson; it would be tragic if the election turned on this false premise, perpetuated by the liberal press and their blog allies.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Actually, I NEVER said we were in recession. What I said is that the economy is deteriorating, and it is. Someone else pointed out that we're not in a recession, and I actually agreed.

Consumer confidence is extremely relevant when it comes to the economy, and the economy IS in the tank by the thinking of anyone with a half a brain.

This post has nothing to do with policitcs and your attempt to politicize it reveals why Rs are going to lose big time come November. Just like Mayor Ed tries to pretend crime is not a problem in A-town, you're trying to prtetend the economy is not a problem.

Be prepared for a surprise.

Anonymous said...

"Our economy is in the tank."

Overall, not even close. Certain sectors? Absolutely. This economy is too large and diversified to be so generally categorized. Sector (housing, automotive) and region (OH, MI) based generalizations are valid, but the economy is still growing, albeit slowly, despite two wars, $125/bbl oil, and a correction in home values after 20 years of historic growth. Things ain't necessarily great, but they ain't too bad either.

Anonymous said...

What the heck?

Are you infatuated with this woman?

Shall we interview every county worker to determine what the future of government should be? I want to see what the sanitation workers say.

This is one of your weirdest posts.
Are you back on the sauce?

The world according to Bernie: to those who have little, we give great glory. To those who are successful, we are suspicious and hostile.

Talk about full of yourself; or full of something. Grow up.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 10:09,

It is precisely your kind of elitism that has causded so many problems in this country. Good leaders, both left and right, know that the answers lie with the folks who are actually doing the jobs. That's why both FDR and Reagen would both seek out the opinions of people who actually work for a living insterad of high end consultants who often have their heads up their asses.

Unless we spend half our budget for an idea, it can't be any good?

When I suggest that a county might benefit by listening to someone who actually works there and who has produced a paper with her ideas, that means I'm infatuated?

What's really weird is the mindset that would even think that way.

And yes, I've seen enough consultants to be very suspicious. They don't have all the answers, but they sure think they do.

And what the hell would be wrong with interviewing gov't workers condcerning what goes on in his or her office? They often provide invaluable insight you just can't find anywhere else. Because that was not done before the courthouse was expanded, many offices had to be done a second time.

So much for your experts.

Anonymous said...

President Reagen really listened to those Airport Controllers, alright. Now it comes into focus, this was a cheap shot at the Courthouse expansion you hated so much. The reason some things were redone was because goofy Stoffa can't think his way out of a paper bag and caved to some gripes because he could blame someone else for the problem.
Sorry, I agree with the other poster, this was not one of your better threads. And Bernie there is the elitism of the employee with all their anger and prejudices, knows best. A bit of reverse elitism on your part.

Bernie O'Hare said...

non 1:52,

Stoffa had NOTHING to do with the poorly designed courthouse expansion, which anyone with a brain does hate. Because none of the people who actually work in the row offices was actually consulted about the new designs, most of the row office expansions were a disaster and had to be done over. And Reibman is the person who actually would sign off on having row offices done over, one by one, starting with deeds. I know bc the second time, they had to listen to us. It's one of the reasons why the courthouse is $2.5 MM over budget.

And no, that ridiculous monstrosity is NOT something I like. It's a palace for the judges and a tomb for everyone else. Even getting in to the damn place is designed to prevent anyone from going there.

I don't mind reading some criticism of Stoffa, but it should at least be truthful. This is a bald-faced lie by some idiot who is going to try to present that aberration of architecture as something people like. The only persons who like that mess are the judges who helped design it.

What Reagan and FDR did that you seem to resent so much is talk to and get ideas from the working people. Reagen used to give secret service the slip and go out while FDR had to bring them along, but they both did it. You don't have any respect for the ability of others to think, and flat out lie about people like Stoffa in the vain hope that it will cost him an eventual vote.

As far as not liking this thread is concerned, don't read it. No one has put a gun to your head and forced you to read this at 1:52 AM on a Sunday morning.

Darcel said...

Hi, my name is Darcel Gibson and I read the good and the bad comments on the blog. As an employee at Northampton County Courthouse, I decided to go back to school because I wanted to make a mark in the business market. I want to bring a new form of business in a world that people do not explore. Technology is increasing daily, the county must realize that they are in a competitive market with other counties and many are stepping into the 21st century (it has do with making a profit by offering a product to consumers). Offering online services could bring in a new form of revenue for the county. With new revenue, the county could increase raises (just a suggestion because gas and food prices have up). It's amazing of the software that's out there.

I am just grateful that I had an opportunity to share my grad school paper with everyone.