Fleming faced criticism earlier this year for the way she handled plans for a museum on a former plantation known as “The Promised Land.” A prominent historian working with the county on the museum said Fleming wanted to “whitewash the story” of slavery at the former plantation and quit the project. Fleming then skipped a Recreation Authority meeting after the AJC reported on the controversy.
The review didn’t mention the Promised Land museum, but said Fleming’s staff complained of a “culture of unilateral decision-making and criticism of program issues or concerns” that has led employees to feel “they should not suggest ideas, or be innovative, because if it isn’t immediately successful, or doesn’t align with leadership’s vision, that they may be penalized, disciplined, or publicly humiliated.”
Additionally, the community services department does not have an overtime budget, leading it to use contractors for work that could be performed by staff, the review said. The department’s wait list for senior services can last years and its elections division does not have an efficient response system for the thousands of daily calls it receives in the run-up to elections, according to the review.
Gwinnett County leaders did not make Fleming available to answer questions about the review.
“The department directors will not be independently addressing Mauldin & Jenkins’ observations and recommendations,” county spokesman Joe Sorenson said in an email. “Instead, the county intends to evaluate and address all the recommendations included in the report in a coordinated and collaborative fashion that ensures consistency across the organization and involves a diversity of thought and perspectives.”
Contractor Mauldin & Jenkins was hired to perform the review in 2021 for about $300,000. The resulting report, released last month, fills nearly 1,300 pages, including 490 observations and recommendations.
Feedback from county employees was gathered through interviews and a survey.
The review wasn’t all bad news. It also heavily praises the county.
“Over the years, County leadership has created an effective and efficient organization that is well positioned for future success,” the report says.
Each department was commended for things it does well, such as the community services department’s partnerships, the fire and police department’s accreditations and the library’s learning labs.
David Roberts, the governmental advisory services practice leader for Mauldin & Jenkins, downplayed the negative findings to the board of commissioners at a recent meeting.
“You are considered a leader in government,” Roberts said, adding that the number of recommendations for improvement are “not too surprising based on the size of your organization.”
The review of the fire department said the chief makes nearly all decisions. It was completed in October, before former Fire Chief Russell Knick was promoted in March to assistant county administrator. The county promoted Deputy Fire Chief Fred Cephas to replace Knick.
The review took issue with the fire department’s overtime schedule that requires 48-hour shifts, saying it risked injuries and accidents, lowered morale and heightened turnover. Employees do not have smartphones in the field, meaning they lack access to some apps that calculate medical dosage by weight and send heart attack data to hospitals, the review said.
It was civilian staff — a category that includes communications staff, administrative support and crime analysts — who had the biggest complaints about the county’s police department. The review found that many there feel there is no path forward for promotion.
The department took issue with that finding.
“There are several different opportunities for promotion,” Sgt. Michele Pihera, a department spokesperson, said in an email.
The assessment noted there were only 591 responses to last year’s citizen survey of attitudes toward police.
The review also covered the Gwinnett County Public Library, which is largely funded by the county but managed by an independent board.
The assessment said the library extends itself into services that might be otherwise available in the county, and that “staff perceive the relationship with Gwinnett County as competitive or adversarial.”
“We are always on the lookout for any duplication of services,” library spokeswoman Duffie Dixon said in an email. The library recently shifted leadership of weekly food giveaways primarily to the county, she said.
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
The library also performs background checks on new volunteers but does not conduct interim or annual checks to verify volunteers haven’t been criminally charged since, the review said. Dixon said the library has requested money from the county for annual checks.
In addition to gathering employee feedback, the Mauldin & Jenkins team shadowed county workers on the job, said Kate Russell, a director at the firm. They went out with code enforcement officers, saw water and sewer operations, visited the jail in the middle of the night and observed an election in progress.
“We tried to see how the day to day actually worked to make sure it matched the processes we were hearing about,” Russell said.