A more than 8-foot-tall, see-though security barrier at the customer counter, new furniture and remodeling work at the town’s offices of utilities and development services are part of a $392,389 contract approved by Queen Creek Town Council.
The project will be funded by water, wastewater and refuse/recycle utility rate revenue with furnishings budgeted in the general fund. The work is to be completed in 70 days.
A job order contract with SD Crane Builders Inc. for $348,005.15 and Wist Business Supplies and Equipment for $44,383.09 was approved in a 5-2 vote Oct. 7, with Councilmembers Jake Hoffman and Emilena Turley dissenting. On the dais were Mayor Gail Barney and Councilmembers Mr. Hoffman, Robin Benning and Ms. Turley. Meeting by WebEx were Vice Mayor Julia Wheatley and Councilmembers Jeff Brown and Dawn Oliphant.
The job order had been in a consent agenda with other items but was pulled by Assistant Town Manager Bruce Gardner for a presentation.
A financial report completed in 2018 by Raftelis, a public sector consulting firm, recommended the town improve the front-counter area for utilities and development services.
“Some of the recommendations that they provided as we look at this remodel is to improve the physical security for employees, improve the customer privacy of information, improve the flow of customers for both utilities and development services, and improve the efficiency of the ... customer service reps through the creation of a front vs. back-office environment,” Mr. Gardner said to the council.
“As we briefed the council on this the last few weeks, there was discussion on the front-office remodel but there was some discussion on the protective glass and the height so it was requested that we provide another option for that, which we’ll present tonight,” he said.
One option was to have the glass approximately 8.5 feet high.
“It does not go to the ceiling --- there’s about a foot between the ceiling and the glass, and then there is a space below,” Mr. Gardner said. “Another option that’s been suggested by council is to look at lowering that protective glass to provide a possible more-inviting view with our employees for the customer; this glass here is two feet lower, to about 6 feet, 8 inches height, and so it still provides the necessary barrier between the customer and the employee. Also, as we’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s good to have a splash guard... between employees and the customer as well,” he said.
The remodel will improve the work space for the division, which has 11 staff members with a combination of customer service representatives and other positions including supervisory staff, he said.
“The area behind the wall creates a call center, which was a recommendation of the Raftelis report. First and foremost for the privacy of the customer and then it also improves the efficiency of the work space by locating the other positions nearer to each other,” Mr. Gardner said.
The Raftelis report recommended the physical layout be changed to improve the efficiency of customer service representatives who now sit near the front counter to assist walk-in customers, Mr. Gardner and Finance Director Scott McCarty said in a memo to the council.
“However, CSRs are constantly answering phones and working on other tasks when not dealing with walk-in customers. It was recommended that private space be available so that CSRs not assisting customers can focus on answering phones and performing their other responsibilities with less distraction,” they said.
Concerning security, there have been public interactions in the last couple of years that created uncomfortable situations with town staff members where a barrier would have assisted, Mr. Gardner and Mr. McCarty said in the memo.
“For example, one of the situations involved a customer reaching over the counter and touching the hand of ... a town employee. Additionally, the staff utilize cash drawers that need to remain inaccessible to the public and a barrier would help with this. Finally, a barrier improves privacy of customer information that is relayed to customer-service representatives --- i.e. phone numbers and credit card numbers. The design contract also will recommend the appropriate work space for the town’s contracted, security personnel,” they said.
Councilmember Oliphant said she preferred the glass that was 8.5-feet high.
“We have grown. We do need that privacy, as you had said, kind of in that back call-center area and so I think that it looks very nice,” she said. “ I would recommend that the first one that you showed --- the glass going farther up, with one foot from the top --- it’s probably what I would prefer.”
The glass will not be bulletproof, Councilmember Benning said.
“It’s not bulletproof; no. The goal with the glass is to create a barrier between the residents and the employees and provide easy exit for the employees if there’s some concerns there,” Mr. Gardner said.
Councilmember Turley said she was concerned with the project's cost.
“My thoughts are that, first of all, we all agree on safety. That’s never been anything we’ve disagreed on. Maybe we disagreed a little bit on how to carry that out,” she said. “So I appreciate the idea of having some level of separation there.... I feel like we can do a little shifting and increase in separation from the public for less than $348,000.”
Mayor Barney said employee and customer safety are a priority.
“As Councilmember Turley said, customer safety and employee safety is top priority and so I would be in favor of the one that goes almost to the ceiling just because of the safety factor,” he said. “I know we’re supposed to be a friendly place --- and we are a friendly place --- and those who are friendly won’t mind the Plexiglas and those who are not friendly need the Plexiglas, so thank you.”
Councilmember Hoffman questioned the need for the glass at the front if there were few incidents of problems with customers.
“To me, this remodel --- not necessarily the staff-optimization elements, but the other elements of this --- this is a very sad day for Queen Creek, in my mind. You’re not following the data,” he said. “And so the data doesn’t back up that this is a necessity to put a barrier in-between our citizens and the staff our citizens employ,” he said.
“The only explanation that I’ve heard that makes a ton of sense is the splash-guard justification and that is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And quite frankly to have glass that is near floor-to-ceiling ... gives us the feel --- it will look nicer, sure --- and ... it’s not bulletproof, so it will be a little bit easier to see through, but it gives us the feel of a South Phoenix bank. That’s not Queen Creek, right? It gives us the feel of a court system,” he said.
Vice Mayor Wheatley asked if a temporary solution could be sought.
“Is there something we can do that is temporary that’s not overly expensive, something that is not more-permanent... Is there something we can do in the interim that would be less-costly and eventually we could eliminate?” she asked.
There are some temporary solutions, Mr. Gardner said.
“If we are not going to go with the long-term and the permanent glass, we’ll have to re-look at the counters,” he said, adding that the counters could be raised.
“And that’s something I’d be supportive of. That would ultimately accomplish what our original concerns were while still keeping it (a) Queen Creek friendly environment,” Vice Mayor Wheatley said.
Councilmember Hoffman said he would agree with that.
Security of the front office is important, Councilmember Brown said.
“I am fearful for our current staff enough so that I am willing to invest this taxpayer money to protect those folks from somebody who would come in angry and do harm to one of those employees,” he said.
“The whole issue for me is one of security and I’m very interested to get the security implemented. Security, for me, wasn’t driven by some consultant that came in and said ‘Hey, have you given consideration to additional safety measures at the front desk,’” Councilmember Brown said.
“With respect to whether it’s Queen Creek friendly or uninviting in any way, I personally don’t think that it is. For me, it’s entirely transparent --- you can see right through the glass; it’s a more-commonly seen aspect of front offices and front desks now than it ever has been,” he said.
Coucilmember Benning said he had been concerned with the expense of the project.
“However, I do feel that the wall ... behind the transaction counter is really where the meat-and-potatoes of this project is located. It makes it easier and better for our staff to serve our customers and I don’t feel like the big cost is in that glass,” he said. “So I am in support of this project at this time based on the fact that I do think it helps our staff better serve the customers and it has nothing to do with the glass. It has everything to do with a solid wall between the transaction counter and the back-of-house desks and work spaces.”