WVN Newsletter #212: With DPW, who wins, who loses?
- 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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
The Board of Selectmen was scheduled to discuss the DPW
issue again at its Jan. 4 meeting.
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Michael Short, Editor