GENESEE COUNTY — Three Genesee County employees were sent to Florida the week of Feb. 11 to attend a series of training sessions at Disney World in Orlando.
This drew the ire of Genesee County Clerk John Gleason, who chose an interesting way to protest the trip: dressing as Mickey Mouse.
At a press conference held last Wednesday, Gleason donned the Mickey ears and whiskers to chastise the Genesee County Board of Commissioners for authorizing what he described as a “warm weather junket during a Michigan cold snap.”
“At a time when I have fought to have the Commissioners reduce the fees for vital records which are $25 each, one of the highest fees in the entire state, this is an example of the board’s misplaced priorities,” Gleason said. “To spend thousands of dollars on a Disney adventure is a gross disservice to Genesee County taxpayers.”
Last September, the Board of Commissioners voted to send the county’s human resources director, planning director and board coordinator to the Disney Institute for professional development training. The board approved a $25,000 expenditure for the trip, which covered training courses, meals, airfare and lodging.
Gleason said the funds should have been spent toward reducing the cost of vital records or aiding the City of Flint during its water crisis.
Josh Freeman, the county board coordinator and capital improvements coordinator, said that the trip was intended to develop leadership skills for county attendees.
“Our hope is that the courses will improve employee engagement and train us to offer a better customer service experience for residents,” said Freeman, who attended five days of training. “The Disney courses are the pinnacle of leadership development.”
Freeman said that the county board wants to change the culture at the Genesee County administration offices by improving employee morale and encouraging productivity.
“Employees that feel valued on the job are likely to be the most productive employees,” he said. “If we can increase productivity of employees by just two to three percent, that’s $2 to $3 million worth of increased productivity.”
Gleason does not agree with that assessment, saying that the county could have pursued in-house training to boost productivity and morale.
“How can three people improve the productivity of 2,500 employees?” he said. “This trip didn’t elevate morale, it doused it. People in my office are disgusted.”
According to Freeman, the Disney Institute courses on leadership excellence, employee engagement and customer service cost $6,500. Meals and lodging totaled $2,000. The total per person attendee cost was $8,500 and was paid for with a one-time reimbursement from the State of Michigan.
Meanwhile, Gleason’s role playing as Mickey Mouse has caught national attention, leading to headlines in the Associated Press and USA Today.
“We wanted to bring more attention to the situation with emblematic action,” he said. “I think we got the point across.”