Acting Virginia Beach city manager speaks to News 3 about staff shortages

Posted at 11:46 AM, Feb 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-17 17:10:56-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The City of Virginia Beach was left horrified after a workplace shooting more than eight months ago.

An employee opened fire on May 31, 2019, shooting and killing 12 people, and the community is still healing.

News 3 sat down with Acting City Manager Thomas Leahy to discuss the effects the city is dealing with today.

Staff shortages and project slowdowns have impacted the city, but as city officials explained, the tragic events of May 31 are just one contributing factor.

The rippling effects have been felt throughout the Hampton Roads region.

City employees have been impacted in different ways.

“There are some that I’ve seen to have sprung back. There are some that are only at half speed,” said Leahy.

He said he was told by the Department of Justice that the city will need somewhere between one and three years before 90% of the workforce can say that they are back to normal. He said 10% will never make it back.

Many that work for the city are still suffering.

“Even before the May 31 event, we were facing high turnover in key positions such as engineering, I.T. specialists and a number of specialized positions,” said Leahy, “and then when the May 31 event hit, the trauma on the employees was so significant that many employees that may have been convinced to stay a few more years and not retire didn't see the value in it and just couldn’t stay anymore.”

After 40 years of working the for the city in various roles, like many others, Leahy himself is getting ready to retire.

“The city hired a lot of baby boomers in the 70s and 80s because it was growing very rapidly,” said Leahy.

He said an overhaul of the retirement system a few years ago also has contributed to the current shortage.

“The old system is a system that rewarded longevity. The new system doesn’t penalize you for leaving,” said Leahy.

He said a healthy economy is pulling potential employees to the private sector.

Shortages have also caused setbacks to road projects, according to Leahy.

“We do prioritize really the things that are most eminent. They get done first,” said Leahy. “It’s very important for public to understand that we are, at best, on average for those four departments - maybe 75% for our capacity - and it’s probably going to take another year or so to climb back up to 85% or 90% and maybe a year or two until we finally get the departments back into the municipal center where we can say that we’re back into our top efficiency.”

Leahy said customer service has also been impacted, causing longer wait times for the public seeking assistance with public utilities. He requested patience.

“To the public, eight months it’s a very long time. They think these issues are behind us. They think that we’re back to normal and we really try to send that and project that, but the fact is, we’re not. We can’t blame the public for getting frustrated for a long wait times or a commitment has been missed or a long backlog.”

Now, the city is working to fill positions.

“Someday the economy will turn, a lot of private companies will be shrinking their workforce; usually the city work is always there. We’re considered a lot more stable,” said Leahy.

He says they’re going to job fairs and universities to recruit students and are working to fill positions and get back to normal workflow as the city continues to try and heal from one of the most traumatic experiences they’ve experienced.

If you are interested in working for the city, click here to search open positions.

Related: Post office renamed after hero in Virginia Beach mass shooting