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Ex-employee has concerns about review

Adams: Management study questionnaire doesn't get to heart of agency's deficiencies

By Ben Orcutt -- borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- A former Warren County Department of Social Services employee has serious concerns about an independent review of the agency now under way.

Karen Adams, 50, was fired from the agency in January 2007 after having worked there for three years as a social worker.

"I thought it would be a good idea to have a third party investigating," Adams said of the review being conducted by Minnesota-based Springsted Inc., which has an office in Richmond.

On June 2, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to hire Springsted to conduct an organizational management study to help the county evaluate management and operating policies of the department to determine if it is adhering to established guidelines and whether any improvements are needed.

As a former social services employee, Adams participated in the review and completed a seven-page questionnaire.

"I'm concerned about the way the questions are worded," she said during a recent interview. "[The survey] focused more on the individual employees' training, job duties and responsibilities, rather than the decision making and implementation of the policies by the supervisors and the administration.

"It was very limiting in how you could answer. It asked questions like, 'What was your general attitude about the quality of services delivered?' The attitude of former employees is not what is being questioned by those who have gone to the board of supervisors [requesting the review]."

Officials with the county and Springsted have said they will not comment on the survey while it is being conducted.

Adams also is concerned about the choices given to respondents in answering some of the questions.

"In question No. 4, 'Were your job duties and responsibilities clearly defined?' They give you 'very clear to not very clear,'" she said. "It looks like a simple question until you realize your supervisor could flip flop at any time at how those definitions were to be interpreted or enacted.

"Another example would be, 'In your opinion, were the WCDSS internal operating policies and procedures accurate and up to date?' It misses the point because for a significant portion of the three years I did not have access to them in electronic or written form."

Adams is concerned about the confidentiality of the survey.

"You had to put your name with your answers in order to be contacted for a private meeting, unless you do something like what I did," she said. "I submitted my request separately from my answers."

The overriding concern for Adams is that the survey may be fundamentally flawed in the way it was designed.

"The questions are not meeting the concerns of the citizens who brought the issues before the board of supervisors," she said. "The questions are not getting at the heart of the deficiencies of what I saw while at social services. That's unfortunate, because then it's a waste of taxpayers' money because it becomes a distraction to solving the problem."

Because she was fired, there will be some who will consider her just a disgruntled former employee, Adams said.

"I found myself becoming increasingly disgruntled and disheartened while I was an employee because of the failure to follow the policies that would have protected the most vulnerable members of our community -- the children, the disabled and the elderly," she said. "I'm happy to be a former employee because I'm working with great people, in a great job and compared to DSS, really good pay.

"That's why we need to have the confidentiality because there is ongoing intimidation and interference in former employees' lives and careers."

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1 Comment

Bill Pierceall

I agree with Ms. Adams assessment.

If Springsted doesn't ask questions about dirt under fingernails, how will they learn about dirty fingernails?

If the Springsted review of Social Services is to generate any constructive improvement, its genesis will not be found in the employee questionnaire answers. I have obtained a copy of the questions. It reads like a multiple choice customer satisfaction survey for a motel chain. The conclusions to be drawn will inevitably say "When things are good, it's great; when things are bad, it's still pretty good". Is this what management wants to hear?

I am disappointed at Springsted's lack of curiosity outside the narrowly defined scope of the questions. Where is the opportunity for an employee to leave the confines of the questionnaire without fear of retaliation for requesting a formal interview?

Perhaps the best insight for where change is most needed will come from the face-to-face interviews conducted at the request of former employees and former DSS Board members? I understand many individuals have voluntarily stepped forward to discuss their experiences with official and unofficial DSS management practices.

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