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Houston City Council earmarks $628 million for wind without debate  

City Council had a long-winded discussion on Wednesday, but it wasn’t about wind power.

Council passed the $628 million wind-power plan and electricity contract extension without a word. Members then spent 40 minutes debating a disciplinary program that costs 0.12 percent of that.

“This is a $73,000 item,” Councilman Peter Brown said of the disciplinary program. “We’ve spent 40 minutes on it, and we passed a $628 million item without discussion.”

Councilwoman Sue Lovell replied, “I don’t mind spending a lot of time discussing something which I think is very important. And that is our employees and who is going to manage them.”

The program – which eventually passed with only one “nay” vote from Councilwoman Addie Wiseman – is called “Discipline Without Punishment.”

Mayor Bill White conceded the “cute name” may have caused some confusion among council members, but said the program actually is a renowned disciplinary method that mixes positive and negative reinforcement. It was developed by Dick Grote, a former Frito-Lay executive and Dallas-based management consultant.

The $628 million contract that the panel quietly approved devotes a third of the city’s energy purchases to wind-generated sources. White hopes the idea will give the city more stability in its roughly $150 million annual electricity budget, after costs rose recently with natural gas prices. The deal would make Houston a leader among governments nationwide for using wind sources to get power.

The employee discipline training, however, caused more discussion. The city will spend $73,500 to train 20 city workers, who then will train others in their departments. The method has been tried for seven years at the Houston Airport System and five years in the Public Works & Engineering Department. Human resources officials credit the Grote method with reducing sick days and injuries in those departments.

Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck said she was skeptical at first, saying managers already should know how to discipline employees. But the statistics from the pilot stage convinced her.

“Good managers were empowered to try to coach along bad employees. And morale goes up,” she said.

The Grote system replaces unpaid suspension with a paid leave day for a problem worker to reconsider his or her commitment to the job. The less punitive approach reduces resentment, according to Candy Aldridge, acting director of human resources. The new method will complement civil service rules and is recommended by the Civil Service Commission.

July 19, 2007
Houston Chronicle

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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