From the County Manager Column from Aug. 17, 2021
Updates on four critical topics before the county board today
In my eight-and-a-half years with Ramsey County, I don’t know that I’ve experienced a single day in which so much momentous work has come together at the same time. At our board meeting and two workshops today, we met key milestones on four topics critical to the future of our organization and employees. I encourage you to watch the videos of the meetings if you are able but offer this quick summary column and video as well.
These topics – especially the first two - have elicited a lot of conversation and feedback. I want to thank everyone who has reached out directly or through surveys, email, conversations with our project teams and others. These are challenging topics for a large and varied organization – many employees have very strong feelings and we can all appreciate the commitment to our organization shown through feedback which has been useful, frank and respectful. Thanks to all for continuing to participate as we work through these topics together.
Proof of vaccine/employee testing requirements
As I outlined in last week’s message, our commissioners today approved expending up to $1 million in federal COVID-19 funds for a program that will require proof of vaccination status or weekly testing of employees. The $1 million will be used to operationalize this program and will include financial incentives for all employees who are vaccinated, as well as costs for administration and auditing.
The details of this plan will be finalized in the weeks ahead and the board’s vote today includes a provision that I must provide all employees and the county board 30 days notice prior to implementation of this testing/vaccination requirement.
Finally, we have developed a webpage that will include an FAQ that will be updated regularly with new information and responses to employees’ questions. As I committed to you last week, you can expect updates in Ramsey News each week on this as it develops.
Flexible Workplace Policy
This morning’s board workshop provided an update on the development of our Flexible Workplace Policy – informed by nearly 2,000 survey responses and other engagement with employees. The board supported our proposal for rolling out a three-phased approach with each phase taking 1-2 months to implement. Following the update from last week, the earliest date we would begin this rollout will be Nov. 1.
The first phase will include:
- All full-time employees already working on-site.
- Community-embedded employees.
- County Manger’s Office and select Strategic Team departments.
Over the approximately six-month rollout, we seek to achieve a flexible work environment that:
- Effectively serves residents in-person while also leveraging service delivery through technology and other means that we’ve improved during the pandemic.
- Accommodates employee needs.
- Recognizes our values and the collective spirit we will build and foster across our organization.
- Recognizes the uniqueness and value of every job at Ramsey County.
We undertake this policy as we continue unabashedly striving to be the public sector employee of choice in the region.
Transforming Systems Together
Just about six months after hiring Danny Givens as the county’s first director of Transforming Systems Together (TST), today’s afternoon workshop featured an update on this new model of sharing power with community members who have experience with county-based systems. A few weeks back, Danny shared progress and some reflections in a guest column for employees. Today, we learned that TST community representatives side-to-side with our county leaders have prioritized child welfare as the first area of focus for reform.
Back when we were getting TST off the ground, we talked a lot about the lessons learned and importance of the county’s long-term work with the community-informed Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative to shape how we can undertake effective system reform. That the committee now has chosen to focus on child welfare as the area of highest and most urgent need will help us to move further upstream and bring resources and coordination to bear in this critical area. The conversation at the workshop was very engaged and inspiring – if you don’t have a chance to watch today, I would urge you to revisit this to get a sense of a future in which shared power with community is key to better outcomes.
Expanding affordable housing
In virtually every meeting and conversation about homelessness over the past number of years, Ramsey County and our partners have stressed that we have a regional crisis of affordable housing. Until there is a supply of housing options at all income levels, we cannot expect to make a true impact on long-term, sustainable solutions for homelessness. Today, the board committed $37 million of our federal American Rescue Plan Act funding over the next four years – with $20 million of to be invested immediately – to work with our partners to significantly expand affordable housing in Ramsey County with strategies such as preservation, construction of affordable multi-family rental housing, funding for supportive housing units to help residents bridge homelessness and others. This action could not be more welcome or timely as we continue to aggressively pursue our strategic priority “Stability Starts with a Place to Call Home” using all available means.
As I wrote in the opening of today’s message, the remarkable quantity and quality of work underway following our mission, vision, goals, strategic priorities and values is only possible due to your commitment to our residents and one another. Today is one of those rare times when a number of things come together that underscore the sustained hard work and commitment Ramsey County’s employees bring every day – thank you!