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Road crew speaks out against potential DPW position

08/02/2007

By Erin Post

Finding a qualified candidate to oversee the range of duties required of a department of public works (DPW) supervisor is a difficult -- but not impossible -- task, according to a representative from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT). 

The discussion came as the Warren Select Board continues to research whether adding a DPW supervisor to oversee the road department, wastewater system, building projects and town parks, in addition to other tasks, would be beneficial for the town.

If the board opts to create the position, they should be clear about the chain of command as well as the duties to be delegated to the new hire, said Dominic Cloud, director of VLCT's municipal assistance center.

Cloud said other towns have advertised the job as an administrative post that requires experience in personnel management and engineering, as well as hands-on skills in wastewater treatment and road work. Although the emphasis placed on each requirement differs depending on the town, finding a person with that combination of education and experience can be tricky.

"The more you pay someone the easier it is to hire someone," he said to the select board July 26, adding that Warren's location and the quality of life it provides may help attract candidates.

The goal, select board members have said, would be to have one person manage projects now under the jurisdiction of several different entities, including the select board and the town administrator.

@SUBHEAD = ROAD CREW RAISES CONCERNS

It was in part that emphasis on administration -- as opposed to labor -- that had current and former members of the road crew concerned about the proposal.

Several employees suggested the town needs more boots on the ground, not another office position.

"I can't see how you can hire a public works man and have him do the same amount of work that four or five of us did all through the summer," said Butch Hartshorn who recently retired from the road crew.

Replacing the two employees the department recently lost should be top priority, he suggested to the select board at the July 26 meeting. The crew currently has four employees.

At least five or six crew members are necessary to maintain the roads, said road employee Tony White, especially with Sugarbush drawing so much traffic in the winter. And improving communication between the select board and road crew would likely solve many problems without an additional management position, he suggested.

"I don't think that the taxpayer needs to be dishing out more money to fix something that isn't broke," he said.

Rudy Elliott expressed frustration that town officials don't seem to know what the road department does or how it functions, suggesting that the decision to join the union stems in part from this situation.

"They joined the union to protect themselves," he said.

In April, the Warren road crew voted to join Teamsters Union Local 597 out of Barre, becoming the only road department in The Valley to unionize. Contract negotiations began several weeks ago and are expected to continue for at least the next month.

@SUBHEAD = BOARD IS GATHERING INFORMATION

Select board chair Mac Rood said the board asked Cloud to come to the meeting to provide more information as they continue to research possibilities, and that hiring decisions for the road department have yet to be made.

As for the possibility of the DPW supervisor taking on at least some hands-on work, Cloud emphasized that the town may tailor the position to suit their needs. Generally, however, he said that most towns do not consider the position a working foreman, and that the bulk of the work is managing people and resources.

In Stowe the DPW position requires a bachelor's degree and at least five years of professional experience, while in Northfield the position is "less administrative and more hands-on," Cloud said. Applicants are required to have a high school diploma and "additional education in the field of engineering."

"You can take it any way you want," he said, adding that some towns hire a person who has come up through the ranks and is "looking to move into a leadership and management role."

Some towns in similar situations have opted to bring a paid town manager on board, as opposed to a DPW supervisor, Cloud said.

"That's what tends to come first," he said.

Other options include hiring a road department supervisor while continuing to parcel out oversight of other projects to different in-house personnel or outside companies.

Contact Erin Post at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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