ABC employees unhappy with manager

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 1, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — An employee opinion survey by the Rowan-Kannapolis ABC Board returned positive scores but raised several concerns about its general manager.
The Employers Association conducted the anonymous survey of 27 employees on March 16. It then interviewed the same employees on April 6 and 7.
The employees ranked various aspects of their work and workplace from 1 to 5. The ABC board received a 3.38 average.
The highest ratings went to job training, physical work conditions, work environment safety, job fit and equipment and supplies.
The employees gave the lowest ratings for management communication, store communication, performance feedback, promotion standards and morale.
Their comments included several criticisms of General Manager Terry Osborne.
According to the executive summary by The Employers Association, some respondents said the general manager’s friends are paid better than other employees, and he overrides store managers’ decisions for employees he likes.
“There is also a perception that the GM (general manager) does not post job openings but rather hires his friends or political allies, and some refer to it as the ‘good ole boy’ network,” the executive summary said. “Further, it was said that the GM does not conduct interviews, reference checks or … background checks on them before they are hired.”
Osborne said he has not hired any new employees for several years. He said the board gets a number of resumes each week, so when a position opens up, he doesn’t need to post the job to find a qualified person to fill it.
He said management staff goes through those resumes and invites the top candidates in for interviews. Many, but not all, are promoted from within the system.
Osborne denied any accusations of favoritism, saying he treats employees fairly and hasn’t been politically involved since 1998, when he left office as clerk of court. He said he has gotten to know many people in the community, including those he has hired.
“I like to call many of them my friends,” he said. “I would like to call them all my friends.”
A few employees left comments about Osborne’s work to fight privatization and promote education, but others said they have a hard time communicating with him.
Osborne said he will follow a request by the board to visit the stores more often. The board also will hold feedback sessions to discuss the survey results with all employees.
“I respect every employee’s opinion and have always encouraged them to communicate any concerns to me or their manager,” Osborne said. “These concerns will not be dismissed, but I will continue to focus on what is best for the organization.”
This is the first employee opinion survey since Osborne came to the board several years ago, he said. Board Chairwoman Linda Lowman suggested it earlier this year.
“We had this survey to find out what our strengths and weaknesses are, and I think we did that,” she said. “It was a learning experience, and I want to use that experience to make a better ABC board.”
Lowman declined to comment specifically about the general manager. She said the survey brought up issues that need to be addressed, but it also highlighted areas that employees are pleased with, like working conditions and benefits.
Board member David McCoy said Friday that the board plans to conduct another survey in the future — maybe in two years — to see if it has improved.
McCoy said he supports Osborne, and the board will work with him to address any problems.
“Terry responded to some of the concerns and had valid explanations for some of the accusations that were made,” McCoy.
Osborne said he knows a few employees are unhappy with him for certain reasons, but that’s part of being a general manager.
He said he is more concerned about the employees’ low morale rating — 2.85 out of five — which he says can be traced to the downturn in the economy and a change in the board’s financial priorities.
“Two bonuses have been removed, and we haven’t had significant raises since,” Osborne said. “That affects morale.”
The board voted Wednesday to send minutes of managers’ meetings to everyone in the stores, in response to concerns that employees don’t know what’s going on in the organization.
Board member Ken Argo also suggested that the board give each store manager his or her store’s financial statements compared to the budgeted amounts.
Argo said Friday he was “pleasantly surprised” by the generally positive results of the survey, in light of the economic climate and recent events.
The state briefly considered privatizing its alcohol system last year. In 2009, Rowan County Commissioners publicly questioned the board about its finances and told it to make profit distributions a priority.
Argo said comments about Osborne likely were made by employees who are disgruntled because of this environment.
“The history of the ABC Board in the last three or four years has been rocky, and we’ve had a little bit of politics,” Argo said. “I said to our general manager, ‘With all that’s gone on in the last five years, my hat’s off to you for sticking around.’ ”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.