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TRANSITION WORRIES STATE WORKERS

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The morale of state employees has plummeted since Gov.-elect Mike Leavitt announced 10 of the top 15 political appointees under Gov. Norm Bangerter will not be asked to serve in his administration, the head of the Utah Public Employees Association said.

"Without a doubt, morale is at its absolute worst right now because they don't know where they're going," said UPEA executive director Nancy Sechrest. "Nobody's been through a transition process like this before."The 7,500-member association endorsed Leavitt after he won the Republican primary, donating $25,000 to his campaign. Now, though, state employees are anxious about what kind of governor he's going to be.

It's not that they weren't glad to see most of the department heads go, Sechrest said. What's worrying state workers is who will be named to replace the department heads - and especially the division directors beneath them.

Division directors, who run the dozens of agencies within each state department, have the most impact on state employees' jobs. But division directors typically aren't named until the new department heads are in place.

"A lot of division directors are real popular with employees. Division directors are the ones who set the agenda and keep the work flow-ing," Sechrest said.

After his election, Leavitt sought resignations from all department heads and division directors effective the day he takes office, Jan. 4. Last week, he announced the names of 10 department heads he intends to replace.

Leavitt then left to attend a course for new governors in Colorado sponsored by the National Governors Association and a meeting of the nation's GOP governors in Wisconsin.

The new governor is scheduled to return Wednesday to his transition offices on Capitol Hill and has promised to begin naming new department heads by the end of the month.

In the meantime, the UPEA offices have been fielding "tons of phone calls," from worried workers, Sechrest said. She has been attempting to reassure them.

"I tell them, `I don't think you should be nervous. I don't think you should be worried until you know who your director is . . . You've been warned big changes are coming,' " she said.

State employees have known they would face a new administration since Bangerter announced some two years ago that he would not seek a third term.

But the reality didn't even start sinking in until Election Day and didn't really hit until the 10 department heads were given their walking papers last week.

Sechrest said Leavitt can calm state workers by acting quickly to replace the department heads and division directors. She said she has already talked with the new administration about involving state employees in the selection process.