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228WVN Newsletter #212: With DPW, who wins, who loses?

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  • waylandvoters1
    Jun 4 2:14 PM
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Should Wayland fold several departments into a Department of
      Public Works? The question has been studied several times
      and could come to voters as early as next fall. There is
      disagreement among officials, and so far no compelling
      financial reason to make the change. At stake is who gains and
      who loses power. Selectmen seem to be pushing for a DPW
      controlled by the town administrator who reports to, you guessed
      it, the selectmen. Though it might be advertised as a gain in
      efficiency, a DPW would be a major break with Wayland's history
      of broad power-sharing. Molly Upton explains.


      WHO ARE "THE DECIDERS"?

      The idea of a consolidated Department of Public Works (DPW)
      has been around town for more than 20 years, and the Board of
      Selectmen has resurrected the issue by forming a DPW
      Assessment Committee. There are layers of issues, but the
      elephant in the room is a town manager form of government,
      which tends to concentrate executive power. The central issue is
      whether to transfer control of the non-school side of the budget
      and operations to the town administrator (and the Board of
      Selectmen) or to perpetuate the authority of broad-based citizen
      boards.

      Among the layers: Does the town want or need a DPW? Should
      the town administrator or a board control the budget and have
      hire and fire authority over a DPW director? If a board, will it be
      elected or appointed? Will a board have control over the director
      or function merely in an advisory capacity? One issue that may
      receive more focus later is the requirement that rates (such as
      water charges) be set by a board.

      Despite a 6-0 vote by the DPW Assessment Committee in favor
      of an elected board for the potential new DPW organization, the
      Board of Selectmen can be seen to be taking steps to present a
      plan that has the town administrator directly in charge of the
      DPW.

      The DPW Assessment Committee has yet to vote on the elected
      board's role as policy advisor or as the entity to which the
      director will report.

      Selectman Chair Joe Nolan, by various accounts, attacked one
      member of the DPW Assessment Committee for drafting a Town
      Meeting warrant article with two options. In fact, several
      members worked on this draft article. One version of the draft
      article called for the DPW director to report to an elected board,
      while another version had the DPW director reporting to the town
      administrator.

      BACK DOOR TO TOWN MANAGER?

      Maryanne Peabody, a long-time member of the Personnel Board
      and member of the DPW Assessment Committee, told Nolan
      that if the selectmen want a change in town government to a
      town manager, they should get voter approval rather than go
      through the back door by putting the town administrator in charge
      of the DPW.

      When discussing the existence of both versions of the draft DPW
      warrant articles at the May 21 selectmen's meeting, there was
      an interesting divergence of approaches among members of the
      Board of Selectmen. Alan Reiss wanted to poll the various
      departments now to see which approach they favored and why.
      But Bill Whitney and Joe Nolan argued that the Board of
      Selectmen should take a "leadership approach" by selecting an
      option and then posing that to the various boards. It is easy to
      suspect which approach the selectmen will present to the
      boards. A DPW reporting to the town administrator would give
      the selectmen more control.

      Focusing on the structural issue of who runs the DPW, however
      important, is rather like asking Johnny if he wants to wear the red
      or blue pajamas. Either way, Johnny is going to bed.

      One should note that although the Park and Recreation
      Commission has voted and gone on record as opposing the
      change to a DPW, some boards have not voted pro or con on the
      DPW and which structure they prefer. The Board of Road
      Commissioners hasn't voted on whether it favors a DPW, but it
      did vote on the structure, favoring an elected DPW board with the
      DPW director reporting to the board.

      When DPW Assessment Committee Chair Dennis Berry and
      former water commissioner and representative Bob Duffy
      separately briefed the Water Commission, the presentations
      were along the lines of "here are our thoughts on the DPW"
      rather than "we want you to vote."

      The Water Commission presented two major issues that the
      DPW committee should be sure to consider: its need for an
      enterprise fund to ensure that rate payers' fees are spent by the
      Water Department; and the fact that various unions have vastly
      different pay scales.

      At a meeting in February, Berry said that if three major boards
      voted against the idea of a DPW, the Committee would fold its
      tent. However, WVN hasn't heard this message reiterated.

      While some selectmen avow they are "sure" there have to be
      cost savings, the DPW Assessment Committee thus far has only
      suggested a potential saving of $50,000 in the first year by
      reducing office staff. However, there could be costs associated
      with negotiating with unions, legislative changes, new
      personnel costs, etc.

      The task of the DPW Assessment Committee in deciding
      whether to recommend a DPW has been further complicated by
      the lack of comparison with any town with both a DPW and the
      same departments as Wayland. Some towns don't have a water
      department, for example, and some don't groom school fields or
      plow school property.

      All three towns against which the committee is comparing
      Wayland have DPWs and town managers: Weston, Concord,
      and Sudbury.

      Longtime resident Sally Newbury opined at a recent Water
      Department meeting that the town should start with combining a
      couple of departments before jumping to a DPW. She suggested
      perhaps Water could be combined with Wastewater.

      There are two primary ways to form a DPW, according to a 2002
      report by the town consultant MAXIMUS. The town can change
      specific by-laws and special acts, or draft a charter. A charter,
      when approved by the Secretary of State, would require approval
      by Wayland voters in a general election. The Maximus report
      recommends using a charter because it is "the cleanest and
      easiest way." These changes could also include creating a town
      manager position.

      The idea of a DPW is rather long in the tooth, having been
      around in the 60s, twice in the 80s, once in the 90s. The current
      DPW study committee dates from early 2005. Members and the
      organizations they represent are: Dennis Berry (appointed at
      large by Board of Selectmen); Maryanne Peabody (Personnel
      Board); Anette Lewis (Board of Road Commissioners); Bob
      Duffy (Water Commissioners); Ana Meliones (Park and Rec
      Commission); Bill Prendergast (non-voting rep of Wastewater
      Management District Committee); Michelle Wolf (Board of
      Health); Joe Nolan (Selectmen), Bob Lentz (Finance
      Committee). The town's finance director originally was
      supposed to assist the committee and serve as staff liaison, but
      this function is being done by the town administrator, Fred
      Turkington.

      The DPW would combine operations of Road, Health (landfill),
      Park and Rec, Wastewater District Management Committee,
      Water, and Septage.

      The committee is described as "an advisory committee of the
      Board of Selectmen that will assess certain of the Town's
      current operating departments (employees, infrastructure and
      Town-owned land) and evaluate whether reorganizing these
      departments into a Department of Public Works (`DPW') would
      be cost effective, and would lead to improved service delivery to
      the Town as a whole (while some departments may see
      improvements in cost or services, others may not). The
      Committee will make a recommendation to the Board of
      Selectmen regarding whether to create a DPW, and if so, how to
      pursue the departmental consolidation that such a move would
      entail. If a decision were made by Town Meeting to move to a
      DPW, the Committee would assist with the implementation
      effort."

      The Board of Selectmen was scheduled to discuss the DPW
      issue again at its Jan. 4 meeting.

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor