The consolidation of the Parks Division into the Public Works Department is coming!
There is no stopping it! The general public does not care one way or the other what
happens with this merger. There are those private entities that will benefit from the
merger, and I’ll bet you they have already spoken with the administration to support it.
On July 31, the Finance and Government Operations Commission held its monthly meeting. Mayor Daniel Drew presented the commissioners his Proposal for Merger: Public Works and Parks. The report states there will be a savings of $150,000 due to the elimination of the Parks Maintainer IV/Working Supervisor position (retirement) an AFSCME bargaining unit job.
He also states the Parks Division Park Maintainer 3 employees will receive a one pay grade salary increase due to added responsibilities. Additionally, the Recreation Division, which will no longer be part of the department, is going to move into the Parks Division facility at Butternut Street, to save the cost of rent at their River View Center location.
Recreation was moved due to lack of space at Butternut Street. The mayor states that combining Parks and Public Works will eliminate duplication of purchased items, and uses the example of a plasma cutter, used to cut steel, a $2,000 piece of equipment.
Christine Bourne, president of AFSCME, Local 466, spoke at the meeting and stated the Union was not on board with the merger as presented. The Parks Division has always been short staffed, but is currently at an all-time low. At one time, there were 18 employees. There are eight park maintenance employees. A far cry from the 30 recommended in a job study performed years ago.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Commissioner Thomas Serra asked if Public Works Director William Russo could be brought forward to speak on what President Bourne had mentioned. The minutes reflect Director Russo’s exact statement: “the mayor doesn’t want five guys at this level telling one guy at this level what to do, this is where the consolidation is coming in.”
This is the person who is going to be in charge of the new department and get a big fat raise! Director Russo also stated he spoke to Parks Division employees to find out their concerns. Has anyone ever heard of “direct dealing”? It is a violation of labor law to deal directly with employees when they have a Union. The employer must only contact the Union’s executive officers.
As a long-time Union officer, I understand the employer has the right to reorganize. If the employer creates changes in job duties, hours of work, wages, benefits, and responsibilities, the employer must sit down with the Union and formally negotiate such changes.
When the Water & Sewer Department reorganized a few years ago, both AFSCME and the Teamsters were involved in formal negotiations with the city. After reading the minutes of this meeting, it doesn’t sound like any formal negotiations have occurred.
As for the $150,000 in savings by not filling one position, no cost breakdown was included with the report. The $150,000 figure seems unreasonably high. If you do not fill a position there will be a savings on paper but what is the effect of the loss? How does the work of that position now get performed? If there are more positions unfilled, it compounds the problem.
How do you compensate for the loss of manpower? Do you contract more bargaining unit work out? Do you hire more part-time or temporary employees throughout the entire year instead of just during the summer? What is that cost going to be? A complete explanation is needed.
Unlike the reorganization of the Water & Sewer Department, the Parks and Public Works employees will not be cross trained. No employees will work inter-departmentally. The employees will stay within their existing divisions. The only thing that is changing is the person in charge of the combined departments and some other supervision within the department administration.
They are using the guise of shared equipment — which has always occurred anyway — to push through this “reorganization.” They should stop cooperating now! Someone, please mind erase all the employees so they can truthfully say the departments never share or shared equipment before!
With a new director overseeing the Parks Division, you can bet the cost of business is going to go way up. More contractors, consultants and engineering firms will be hired for every little thing. There will be a savings of one unfilled position with this consolidation, but there will be a high cost for private consultants, engineers, and contractors. That’s how the Public Works Department operates, that is how the director will want the Parks Division to operate.
The more consultants, engineers, and contractors hired the more perks and contributions to election campaigns. Once you get through all the bull, it always boils down to one thing — money! Check the campaign donation lists this election year.
There are unmentioned costs other than the one pay grade increase for Park Maintainer 3 workers. The Director of Public Works job description has a two word change in it. The Deputy Director of Public Works has many changes which increased his duties and responsibility, and the Parks Superintendent position has several changes.
There are office employees whose work will be changed, as well as the responsibility and duties of the manager and budget analyst of the mayor. City history shows these positions will receive pay grade increases and/or maybe even additional assistance; if not now, then very shortly down the road.
So, what has the taxpayer gained with this recommendation to combine the Parks Division into the Public Works Department?
You still have a Parks & Recreation Director on board, who will probably be in charge of Recreation and Senior Services at some point in time, so there is no cost reduction there.
No co-mingling of manpower for assistance to the Parks Division or the City Yard (Public Works) employees, so manpower needs have not been met or addressed, work load and completion will not change.
There will be big increases in pay for the Public Works administrator(s); sooner or later.
There will be budgetary cost increases in the Parks Division, (work previously performed in-house), for engineering services, private contractors, and consultants.
Bottom line is the reorganization of the Parks Division into the Public Works Department is going to happen no matter what! Even if there is a large public turnout objecting to it, it will be approved by the Common Council. I believe the mayor has the votes on the Council to push his agenda through.
The mayor and those voting in favor of this reorganization can put a pin in their lapels exclaiming how they “improved services to the taxpayers, and reduced the cost to do so!” It won’t happen without them throwing millions of dollars to ensure success.
In my opinion, it’s all a giant smoke screen for the real
reason. They are willing to approve this reorganization to monetarily take care of one
or two people who are loyal political friends. All the other mentioned costs are just
peripheral damage the taxpayer will have to pay for.
There will be a cost increase to combine the departments, just as there was combining the Personnel Department into the Legal Department. The premise of this new consolidation, according to Mayor Drew, is to not duplicate items. He cannot say there is a duplication of services because each division performs work completely different of the other.
There may be similarity with some of the equipment used, but the work is far different, as are the job duties of employees. The savings may be a $2,000 plasma cutter.
And Justice For All is a newsletter involving the opinions of John Milardo as a life long Middletown resident, former 41-year employee of the city of Middletown.