Another indication of what appears to be significant disarray in West Virginia's Division of Highways continues to cast a shadow over the department and the many endeavors it is supposed to be tackling.
This one has to do with the division's so-far inability to complete a task assigned by legislation approved and signed in 2017. That bill required the division to revamp its hiring process, rewrite job classifications and improve pay grades, all with the goal of increasing efficiency in hiring and make pay for division employees more competitive with that offered by private companies and other state highway departments. The measure was intended to combat high vacancy and turnover rates.
But, according to a mass grievance filed by more than 270 DOH employees, the division has made little progress on that endeavor. It also has shared little information about its progress over the past few months.
At this rate, should we be surprised?
The grievances from employees started rolling in during January. They claim the division has requested and received permission from the state Personnel Board to modify only a handful of job classifications, resulting in pay raises for fewer than 200 of the division's lowest-paid employees, according to reports by the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The division has about 5,000 employees.
In late March, the division submitted some additional reclassifications for assistant directors, storekeepers and office assistants. However, the Personnel Board postponed action on the requests after concluding most of the proposed changes lacked sufficient detail on job descriptions and qualifications, according to the Gazette-Mail.
No more proposed changes were presented at the Personnel Board's May meeting, nor any of that body's meetings through August. A DOH spokesperson has not responded to requests for updates.
In July, Transportation Secretary Byrd White, speaking to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Government and Finance, said he could not comment on the grievance filed by employees because it was an active grievance. He did say that work was continuing to rework the pay scales.
The lack of any new visible action since March and any detailed updates from DOH officials hardly inspires confidence.
This issue coinciding with other recent developments makes us wonder what kind of condition the division is in. In March, Gov. Jim Justice responded to criticism about the condition of the state's secondary roads by announcing an initiative to speed up repairs. But many of the division's district engineers and county road supervisors indicated then that they lacked sufficient manpower and equipment to maintain those roads. Then just last month, the state sought bids from outside contractors to coordinate and oversee that secondary road maintenance program, raising questions about why existing employees weren't capable of carrying out those functions. The winning bidder was a company headed up by two former DOH engineer/managers.
The division has a lot on its plate, granted. Besides improving secondary roads, there's also the matter of the Roads to Prosperity road improvement program approved by voters in 2017, which requires oversight by the division. At this rate, however, doubts about whether the agency can successfully complete all that's before it continue to grow.