A shake-up in HR as city's pension fight continues

In what some may view as a major shake-up, city of Atlanta officials this week named Yvonne Cowser Yancy as the new commissioner of human resources, replacing Sherri Dickerson.

The move, which officials say has been in the works for some time, comes while Mayor Kasim Reed and his senior staff are trying to sell 7,500 city workers on proposed pension changes, amid growing concern that many of those employees have yet to fully grasp what the changes could mean to them.

At a special hearing Wednesday of the city council’s finance committee, Councilmember Joyce Sheperd blasted the human resources department, which she said was not engaged with or sensitive to the needs of city workers. She said that notion was verified earlier this week when she attended a town hall meeting with hundreds of confused city workers.

“We need to clearly sit down with every employee one on one and have ongoing conversations about what their benefits are," Sheperd said. "There needs to be more education for our employees. We need someone strong in the department that can deal with all of the needs. If we need to bring somebody else in to do that, I welcome it.”

Dickerson said her department has been engaged with workers ever since human resources began managing the pension.

“Up until the beginning of the last fiscal year, pension was in the department of finance,” Dickerson said. “So for her to sit there and talk about workers not getting training is wrong. They have had more training in the last year than they had in 30 years.”

Dickerson is not going far away. She will remain with the department as the deputy. COO Peter Aman said the administration has been in discussions with Dickerson for weeks about her transitioning out of the top role in order to spend more time with her family. As the pension debate has heated up, her workload has grown.

“I have two growing girls who need Mama’s attention,” Dickerson said.

Meanwhile on Thursday afternoon, Reed and Aman held another meeting with city workers to discuss proposed changes to the pension. Reed said that between him and his senior staff, every city employee will have a chance to meet with a city official to discuss the pension process.

“I said all along that this was going to be tough, but we are dealing with a billion-and-a-half-dollar problem,” Reed said. “People have a lot of strong emotions, but we have to deal with this problem that has been here all along.”

Yancy, who starts work on Monday, brings more than 16 years of diverse public and private sector experience in both union and non-union workplace environments. Most recently she served as a vice president for human resources with SunTrust Bank.

She will earn $150,000 annually in her new position.

“Yvonne has demonstrated the capability to design and implement human resource initiatives that improve the productivity and morale of her organization’s employees,” Reed said. “She will help our human resources department become more responsive to the needs of our workforce, a critical task as my administration continues to review and make improvements to the city’s compensation structure, employee training programs, health insurance plans and pension plan for retirees.”