Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Sep-Oct 2016 issue

Two-Way Street: How Do You Manage Vacation Coverage in a Small City?

Angie Storlie, clerk-treasurer, City of BigforkANGIE STORLIE
City Clerk-Treasurer
Bigfork (population 454)

I am the city clerk-treasurer for the City of Bigfork, and I’m one of three employees. The other two work full-time in the Public Works Department. We operate in a pretty old-fashioned manner around here when it comes to vacation time.

Covering for one another
The public works guys cover for each other when one goes on vacation. When I am out, I post a sign on the door and change my voicemail message with the date of my return. I include in my messages the public works cell phone number for people to call in an emergency. Of course, it’s a small town, so most people know how to get ahold of them anyway!

Handling things that can’t wait
I’ve had people call or text me while I’m out, and I just forward the message to my co-workers if it’s something that needs attention right away. My co-workers also pick up the mail and check voicemail. They try to take care of anything that can’t wait until I get back, and they call me if they need to. They also water the plants (when they remember)!

Hard to get away
The biggest difficulty in planning vacations is deciding when and how long we can be gone. I’m not going anywhere during Council meeting weeks or election season, and there are times when both public works employees need to be here. When you add in time off for sickness and training events, it’s even more difficult. The result is that we rarely take our vacation in long stretches. We tend to take only one to three days at a time. I usually take my vacation days when my kids have days off from school. I guess it helps that the three of us are not really the jet-setting types, and we usually vacation close to home.

Support of others
Our residents and councilmembers are very understanding about the times we are out of the office. On occasion, we’ve had complaints about not being able to get ahold of anyone at the city, but when people find out that someone is on vacation, the usual response is, “Good for them.”

I think we employees have built this support for ourselves by being very responsive to resident and Council needs and requests when we are in the office, and being flexible and allowing people to contact us when we are out of the office.

Michelle Stevens, clerk-treasurer, City of UpsalaMICHELLE STEVENS
City Clerk-Treasurer
Upsala (population 425)

The City of Upsala has two staff members: Frank Koopmeiners is the public works superintendent, and I am the city clerk-treasurer. With such a small staff, it can be difficult for us to take time off.

Strategic planning
Frank and I both strategically plan our time off. Frank covers everything from water and sewer, to streets and parks, and beyond. He doesn’t take vacation when there is a major event happening, such as Heritage Days. He also hardly takes a day off in the winter because no one else plows the streets. As for me, I avoid vacationing the first Monday of the month (City Council meetings), and the 17th of the month (the day I print water bills). I even debate going to educational conferences—is it worth the time away compared to the amount of education I will receive? I often decide it is just too hard to catch up on everything.

Working vacations
When we do manage to get away, there is no one to cover for us while we are gone. I usually take a bit of work with me. For example, when I was vacationing in Florida last February, I took my laptop with me. I used TeamViewer software to access my computer at City Hall and get some basic work done each day.

Prepared for emergencies
Although we don’t have people to cover for us while we’re out for a few days, I am getting prepared in case of an unexpected absence. I have started creating a “How to Survive” binder. It has information on everything from printing water bills, to editing the website, to a list of resource people and their contact information.

Mayor Andrea Lauer from the neighboring City of Royalton calls it the “broken leg syndrome.” In other words, if something happened to me, and someone else had to pick up where I left off—he or she could.

Not all alone
Although I don’t have another employee to assist with my work, a couple of councilmembers are very helpful. Councilmember Joan Olson comes in twice a month to help me code all the bills, and Mayor Rollie Johnson comes in every day to get an update on what is happening. It is great to know that with the support of them and the rest of the Council, I am not all alone in this job!

Read the Sept.-Oct issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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