Friday, November 30, 2018

Expanding the Summer Hours

I was surprised when the City announced just before Labor Day weekend that the “summer hours” for Town services would be continued to January 1st.  Essentially those hours include an addition of two hours (5pm to 7pm) on Tuesday night and a reduction of four and a half hours (12:30 pm to 5 pm) on Friday afternoons.  Overall, City Hall will be open for 2.5 hours less per week.

There is no question it is more commonplace to see Town Halls close on Friday afternoon.  The issue of course becomes why?  First and foremost if we are being honest, many have done it for employee benefit reasons, not public service reasons  Others, have done it for budget reasons.  My concern is that it reinforces a common and convenient stereotype of public employees that is not true, namely that they have easy jobs with good hours and good pay.  Having worked as a public employee for the last 25 years I think nothing is further from the truth, but public policy decisions such as this lend unwanted credibility to the notion.

I try not to regularly use my past experience as a best practice example, because I realize things have changed a lot.  However, in this instance I think not so much.  When I was Framingham’s Town Clerk (1993-1999) and Town Manager (1999-2005) we kept the key customer service locations open one night a week with a limited crew, and the building open full time the rest of the week.  It worked great. We kept numbers at the time and found there were only three or four offices that generated any significant foot traffic in the evening.  Therefore we can serve the public one night per week without denying the public service every Friday afternoon. 

Having the City Clerk, Treasurer, Assessor and maybe Board of Health open for evening service makes sense.  Having the Accountant or Purchasing for example closed on Friday and open on Tuesday nights, makes no sense.  We are much better served having them open on Friday as they are business to business offices.  Same goes for offices with other more business orientated operations, such as Planning and Building.  Having our building and health inspectors unavailable on Friday afternoons seems inefficient at best, and possibly dangerous.  

The current hours are set by a bylaw that states the building is to be open from 8:30 to 5:00 Monday to Friday.  It does have an exception that say unless otherwise authorized by the Board of Selectmen.  However, I see the legislative intent of that bylaw to mean that exception authorization is for specific situations like snow or maybe the Friday after Thanksgiving, not a permanent change.  If it were meant to allow a permanent change, then it would not say 8:30-5:00, it would say "as determined by the BOS."   

There is not public policy reason to close on Friday afternoon.  If there is another justification that I am missing, then I would like to explore it through a public process that will help enhance public understanding.

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