Gilbert’s new system tracking its employees has Big Brother’s fingerprints all over it.
Six months ago, the town did away with collecting paper time sheets and entering scheduling data by hand for some 1,300 employees, a welcome acknowledgement that Gilbert is actually a city, though whether officials will ever get around to changing the municipality’s designation is debatable. However, the new system requires employees to place a finger on an electronic device which reads certain parts of their fingertips, to document their presence at a given place and time, which understandably gives some the impression they aren’t considered trustworthy.
Town Manager George Pettit told the Tribune’s Beth Lucas this software was installed to make it easier to resolve time-card disputes, but also said he and other top managers exempt from having to track their hours are required to “clock in” so their whereabouts can be documented.
Holding top bosses to the same standards as those below them is admirable, but we share the concerns Mayor Steve Berman and Councilmembers Linda Abbott and Don Skousen have about the time-clock program, which is to be discussed during the council’s annual retreat next month.
Biometric information such as the fingerprint data picked up by Gilbert’s system may have its place in providing security to highly sensitive areas or to thwart fraud of easily fabricated documents like Social Security cards, but neither function seems to be served by knowing exactly where a town attorney or road crew member is at all times, particularly when many of these jobs require workers to be offsite and in the community they work for, hopefully without the back of their minds preoccupied with whether any story they tell about why they aren’t at their desks at the moment will be believed.
As a taxpayer-funded organization, the town government is also sending the wrong message to its constituents by creating an atmosphere based on surveillance and suspicion. It isn’t that likely to spread to daily town life (especially in a conservative place like Gilbert), but it doesn’t contribute to a healthy environment where public servants and private individuals can work together to resolve the issues of the day, whether they involve trash collection, fire protection or traffic congestion.
There are many, many ways the process of clocking in could have been modernized without resorting to these invasive tactics, and we hope Gilbert can find one that’s less so, without losing too much of the $250,000 that’s been invested in the software.
The dividends in public trust and cooperation will be worth it.