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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Looks To Revamp System Of State Supervisors

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network
Oregon state printing plant manager Tim Hendrix (right) listens as production mail manager Tim Landgren updates him on the morning's operations.

A comprehensive review that’s now under way could bring big changes to state government in Oregon.

The state wants to make sure it's getting the best bang for its buck when it comes to state managers -- the people who supervise front-line employees.

Middle management isn't a glamorous way to describe a job. But as Tim Hendrix walks across the floor of the state printing shop he oversees, it's clear he doesn't take his role lightly.

"What we do is important," he says. "If there's a delay in our production, it affects the Oregon citizens out there. We take our job very seriously here."

That's because the plant and its 86 workers work round-the-clock to churn out things like jury summons, car titles, and tax refund checks.

If you're a resident, taxpayer, or driver in the state of Oregon there's nearly a 100 percent chance that you've gotten something in the mail that was printed here.

Last fall, Hendrix took a short break from the day-to-day job of managing the printing plant. He -- along with thousands of other state managers -- filled out a survey from the Oregon Department of Administrative Services.

He had to document every single one of his tasks.

"It's an eye-opener when you start really looking at all the aspects of your job," Hendrix says. "And the survey was such that it really made you poignantly look at what you did on a daily basis, and what you're responsible for."

It's all part of a comprehensive look at managers in Oregon's state government. The review was a response to a number of concerns: Some job descriptions are rarely updated even as the role and function of a state agency evolve over time.

Oregon's Chief Operating Officer Michael Jordan says many qualified candidates don't even bother applying any more.

"We're finding it more and more difficult to compete for compensation," he says. "Even with local governments in Oregon in some cases."

Jordan says some state managers are even making less money than the employees they supervise. That's because union-represented employees benefit from collective bargaining, and managers do not.

"I think the relationship between the state and its managers has certainly been strained for some time, and some might say it's been a broken relationship," says Jordan.

The union that represents the biggest number of state workers is cautiously awaiting the results of the managers' study.

SEIU lobbyist Arthur Towers says managers do have a role to play in keeping state government working smoothly. But, he says, if any pay raises result from this review, they shouldn't come at the expense of front-line workers.

"We're curious to see what's being proposed," says Towers. "Right now I'm trying to keep an open mind about that."

Towers will have to keep his mind open for a while. The state of Oregon's look at managers is not expected to be complete until 2015.