From the Chair, Tommy Griffin…
Communicating with Our Leaders
Hello friends. It’s spring and time for new beginnings. As spring begins to bring on new life, it is time for us to think about news things and new ways for us to communicate with our leaders at Raleigh. What kind of plans should we be making to let the folks at Raleigh know that we need to be number one on their list of things to include in the budget for this year? Now is the time for all of us to be working together and communicating with our leaders at Raleigh to make sure that they put state employee’s first. It will take all of us working very closely together to make sure that this happens. The economy has turned around and is moving forward a little, but by the time our leaders get together in May, there’s no telling how much our economy will have improved. So we need to make sure that we have a plan on how to communicate with them, so that we will not be forgotten this year. I believe President Kennedy said it best: “Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.”
In our case, it is what we can do to help our state and ourselves. We all know that state employees are a great investment in the future for our State. Our leaders need to take a close look at what we are doing for our state and realize that we are doing a lot more than we are being compensated for. Take the time to write a postcard or letter to our leaders at Raleigh and let them know how you feel. We are all in this together, and it will take all of us working together to get the changes made that are needed to improve our lives. Thanks for everything that you are doing to help make this a great University and a great State.
Your friend always, Tommy Griffin.
Find contact information for your legislator via this website today.
Bob Knight, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, spoke to the Forum on affordable housing opportunities. He pointed out that developing low-cost housing opportunities for University employees is one of the recommendations of the Chancellor’s Task Force for a Better Workplace.
Knight gave an update on the Winmore development, in Carrboro off of Homestead Road. Winmore is to include 100 or more affordable homes as well as 56 “reasonably priced” homes, in addition to more expensive properties. The affordable homes are to be available only to Carrboro and University employees, and if resold will still be sold at a controlled low price. Thus the homes will have low cost but will not yield big profits if the owners sell them. Knight estimated that the first homes in Winmore will be available in 2005.
Knight also spoke of various ways the University is working to make home ownership more affordable for its employees. He is working with local financial offices to get favorable loan terms for employees. He is also interested in “smart commute mortgages”, which are Fannie Mae products that reward folks using public transportation, based on the notion that people who use public transportation will have lower auto expenses. The loans will provide qualified borrowers with better rates or allow them to qualify for larger loans.
Knight passed out flyers from the Chapel Hill Board of Realtors (929-4032), with pointers to helpful resources, including: Habitat for Humanity (732-2337), Orange Community Housing and Land Trust (967-1545), and the Affordable Housing Committee (933-8549).
At two recent Forum meetings, Laurie Charest, Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources, presented reports on faculty and staff benefits at UNC-Chapel Hill, as compared to benefits offered at our peer institutions (in the October 1 meeting) and as compared to other southeastern states (at the December 3 meeting). Both were reports that she has recently presented to the Board of Trustees (BOT). Overall, benefits here came in dead last in both comparisons. As Charest often points out, benefits at the University are determined by the state legislature; the University has no authority to modify them. Therefore, any improvements must be enacted by the legislature, and it is up to the BOT, the administration, and state employees to convince the legislature that changes are needed. These reports, contrasting our benefits with those available elsewhere, can be a powerful tool in persuading the legislature that state employees need improved benefits. The two reports are available at ../reports/BOT-01-peers.ppt and at ../reports/BOT-02-southeast.ppt
Do you know someone who volunteers at the local shelter, gives up their Saturdays to be a big brother or big sister, visits the sick or elderly, or performs any other service for the community? If so, we want to know about them. We are recognizing UNC staff employees who are outstanding contributors to their communities, and we would like to have your nominations. Individuals will be selected from your nominations and introduced in future University Gazette publications with an article and photograph. We want these individuals to know how much we appreciate them making our communities better places to live. A copy of the nomination form is available at ../index.htm/Committees/shiningheels.html or by contacting Dixie Bloom through email at firstname.lastname@example.org and via phone at 843-6191. Nominations should be submitted by Wednesday, March 31.
The Carolina Center for Public Service will recognize five individuals (including two staff members) and three organizations at the center’s awards program April 8 on the UNC campus.
Robert E. Bryan Public Service Awards go to two staff members and two students: Katrina Coble, of Computer Science, is the chair of the university-wide blood drive, and she manages the blood drive’s kickoff and recruiter training. Elizabeth Millwood, of the Center for the Study of the American South, supports grassroots oral history research under way across North Carolina. Megan Davy, a senior in Public Policy, founded Project OpenHand in Chapel Hill, which links members of the UNC campus community with Alamance and Chatham county residents with HIV and AIDS. David Edwards, a graduate student in epidemiology, worked with mothers and children at the Carolina Children’s Clinic in Raleigh’s Salvation Army Shelter.
Dr. Michael Stegman of the Department of Public Policy is receiving the Ned Brooks Award for Public Service for creating and directing the Center for Community Capitalism, which engages in multi-disciplinary research and outreach focused on applying private-sector knowledge to revitalizing distressed communities.
Office of the Provost Public Service Awards will go to three organizations: the N.C. Institute for Public Health, for its Management Academy for Public Health, which developed customized courses for public health managers to improve the effectiveness of public health organizations; the Carolina Environmental Program, for its One North Carolina Naturally program, which seeks cooperation among conservation, agricultural, and development interests in an effort to conserve targeted bodies of land and water; and the Student Health Action Coalition, for its Hurdle Mills Food Clinic, an effort developed in collaboration with community members to address diabetes prevention in a rural community.
Michael Williamson, Deputy to North Carolina State Treasurer Richard Moore and Director of the North Carolina Retirement Systems, spoke at this month’s Forum meeting. Williamson’s presentation centered on three main points: the condition of the retirement systems, improvements being implemented to improve customer service, and investment necessary in the retirement system staff and offices.
Williamson opened by stating that, in addition to the University’s Teachers’ and State Employees’ Benefit Trust, the NC Retirement Systems are responsible for administering retirement programs such as the Firemen’s and Rescue Squad Workers’ Pension Fund, the Public Employees’ Social Security Agency, the Legislative Retirement Fund and the National Guard Pension Plan, among others. In total, North Carolina’s Retirement Systems comprise the 9th largest public retirement system in the country, the 14th largest nationally and the 22nd largest globally of all public and private pension funds.
Williamson stated that, financially, we are one of the strongest retirement systems in the country. He supported this point by showing that the Retirement Systems’ portfolio saw gains of 7.6% during 2003. This placed North Carolina second in the nation for investment performance that year and, for the period ending in March ’03, N.C. was among the top 25 percent of all public funds for one, three and five years. He went on to emphasize that the Systems were financially sound to meet all its members retirement needs for at least the next 30 years.
A second topic Williamson covered during his presentation focused on the Systems’ customer service. The Retirement Systems’ mission is “To provide excellent customer service, information, and benefits in an accurate and timely manner.” To this end Williamson pointed out improvements his office has and will continue to implement in order for the Systems to reach its vision “to be among the top 25 percent performing retirement systems in the U.S. by 2007.”
Williamson opened the topic of customer service by pointing out that the N.C. Retirement Systems ranked at the bottom in total customer service scoring when compared to other retirement systems nationwide. Contributing to this condition was the fact that N.C. placed dead last in total staff funding per participant in administering the Systems’ programs. As a result, North Carolina currently has one retirement administrative staff member to every 3,700 employees – the highest ratio of any state system. Further, with regard to the people whose job at the Division is to actually interact and assist retirement members, the ratio jumped to over 26,000 members per Division “counselor.”
As an immediate remedy to improve this ratio, the State Legislators approved the hiring of additional counselors, which improved this ratio to 1 counselor to every 19,000 members. The addition of these positions resulted in improved customer service with regard to the telephone service provided as measured by a decreased number of members “hanging-up” before being able to reach a counselor. This improvement in telephone service is important, as the System now requires members to make appointments by phone to meet directly with counselors at their Raleigh offices. (Those interested may make an appointment by calling 919-733-4191.) This additional staff also improved “turnaround time” with regard to the Division being able to receive, process, and return correspondence from members.
Despite these improvements to customer service by adding counselors, these positions were deemed “time-limited” by the legislature, meaning they are not permanent positions. If these time-limited positions are lost, the ratio will return to 1:26,000. Williamson said his office is working with the legislature to have these positions upgraded to permanent status.
In a related, final topic, Williamson spoke of how further investment in the Retirement Systems’ staff and offices is necessary to meet the challenge of serving a retirement membership that will more than double over the next 20 years as the baby-boomer generation retires.
Other major initiatives include more and improved staff training, staff performance measures, process improvement teams, technology developments, and better communications by means of the publishing of various monthlies and newsletters.
All of this will cost money, and Williamson stressed how his office has, is, and will continue to work with and pressure the legislature to fund these personnel and program initiatives. Williamson said that his office now has funding for a new staff training program and that the legislature has approved funding for a new $20 million computer pension system that will be in place by mid-2007. However, with primary and fundamental challenges to his offices coming in the form of increasing workloads for staff members, the need of increased employer and member education, and aging technology, along with his office’s goal of improving customer service now and over the coming decades, Williamson said “…the State needs to step-up and make the necessary contribution…” to meet these challenges head-on.
(Those interested in submitting questions regarding the retirement system or their retirement program in general may email the InTouch staff at: email@example.com)
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill plans to launch an energy conservation awareness campaign next fall, but in the meantime, organizers behind the effort need to know what to call it. And that’s where UNC faculty, staff and students come in. The Conservation Awareness Team, a group of UNC employees whose jobs involve meeting the university’s energy needs, is calling for the campus community to vote on a campaign slogan that will be used in promotional materials next fall. Submitted by UNC students, the candidates are:
* You’ve got the power to conserve.
* Do what’s right, turn off the lights.
* You have the power. Turn it off.
* Conserve energy for prosperity and posterity.
* Practice conservation for the future generation.
* Keep the future bright, turn off the light.
To vote on a slogan, go to http://www.fac.unc.edu/conserve. People also may enter their own “write in” suggestions, which will be considered for future campaigns. The deadline to vote is April 12, and the winning slogan will be announced on Earth Day, April 22. Next fall’s conservation awareness campaign stems from the state’s Utility Savings Initiative, which calls for state agencies to save at least 4 percent on their utility bills each year through 2008 as a way to help offset budget cuts.