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Caution! Hell Is About To Freeze Over

Part III - A View From The Director's Chair

This is part three of Arthur Isaacson's profile on the town's and Director Peter Neff. To read ; for

The famous four questions:

What is the hardest part of the job?

Meeting the expectations of the public. Considering the magnitude of work to be done, most projects need to be prioritized. Someone will be first and someone will be last or among different projects, there is also a first and a last. You know those who happen to be last will not be happy. The person with the tree down on their street may not be aware that the entire town is out of power and the priority is restoring power to fire, police, EMS and 911 service first. Part of the job.

What is the best part of the job?

"His crew," was the quick reply. Clearly with pride the director states "The Public Works Department that existed five years ago was a mere shadow of what it is today.  The crew leaders can be found in an office in the morning planning,
supervising a project in the afternoon and mowing grass or laying pipe the next day. The employees have responded well to the new mission and have worked hard to become what we are today." 

The cooperative relationship his department has with other town agencies, particularly the police and fire departments, came next. He made a point of explaining how each of the other emergency services and their management were more interested with getting the job done than protecting any turf or gaining a personal spotlight or credit. Simply working together to get the best result. In addition he was quick to give credit to the town's management for supporting his methods and the changes he has initiated. Spending most of their time working with the Park and Recreation and School Athletic Departments, he believes they have a great relationship with those agencies as well. He says they all meet on a routine basis to assure that they are providing what is needed.

What is the most frustrating part of the job?

Not being able to get to everyone first. The sheer amount of work, as previously discussed, requires prioritization. Keeping work in house to reduce cost is another area adding to the priority puzzle. Delays beyond their control is also an area of frustration. For example, opening up Morgan Park to repave it and then in the middle having the utility decide to put in a pipe without any prior warning. This caused a two week delay and a rearrangement of the project schedule, making it look like poor planning. We all know no one ever really believes it. Dealing with the erroneous perceptions is just part of the job.

What would he change if he could?

"Actually nothing," said Neff. He has the tools to do his job and they are constantly evolving as an organization. "Come back in six months and it will look different," he suggested. Some examples of innovations initiated by Public Works are: Having a plumber and carpenter as part of his crew helps with small projects removing the need for outside costs and improving their response time. Combined bidding between different town agencies to get lower costs. Septic pumping, fuel purchases and maintenance contracts for the several generators in town are indicative of this approach. Building maintenance on the town side is still an area that needs attention, he said thinking out loud. Although Pete's list of buildings he's responsible for shows 29 facilities, my list of items to be evaluated and maintained compiled in 2007 contains 37 structures. The apparent disparity is because my list contains individual items, several of which might be contained in one of Pete's facilities, such as the Peter's Recreational complex.

I think it is significant to point out that during our entire conversation the director never used the word "I." It was always "we," whether he was referring to his staff, the fire department or the police, he always gave credit to others and the combined effort. The mark of a good leader. I would also like to point out that this director is no shrinking violet, unabashedly standing firm and doing battle when he needs to, whether it is with the Board of Selectmen or the Board of Finance. He is no doubt putting his indelible mark on a department that is an integral part of Clinton's daily life.

As I was leaving I wondered: Considering what is at stake, what keeps the director up at night? I'd guess his thoughts must be the same as our police and fire chiefs: that despite their best efforts, tomorrow just might be the day hell freezes over.

Until next time

Arthur Isaacson


Projects handled by Public Works Department between 2008 and present:

  1. Jared Elliot Middle School front sidewalk replacement
  2. Fairy Dell Road drainage improvements
  3. Nod Place drainage project
  4. Woodland Drive drainage upgrade
  5. Woods Lane repair from flood
  6. Woods Lane FEMA mitigation project
  7. Creampot Road drainage upgrade
  8. Wildwood and Hunter's Path drainage project
  9. Heritage Circle drainage project
  10. Settler's Village drainage project
  11. Reconstruction of Morgan Football practice field
  12. Bulky Waste site upgrade
  13. Nod Hill Road drainage improvement
  14. Waterside Lane bridge renovation
  15. Chittenden Hill Road drainage project
  16. Bus shelters for Route 1
  17. Hammock Road- Blake Rave drainage
  18. The beautiful restoration and replanting of the Wall of Honor in front of Andrews Memorial Town Hall

Public Works Department planned projects for 2011-12 (Those listed below are actually in process as of this writing)

  1. Hemlock Hill drainage improvement
  2. Kelseytown Road, Tower Hill and Kelseytown Bridge Road intersection improvement project
  3. Harbor Parkway drainage project
  4. Nod Road culvert replacement
  5. Nod Road reconstruction and drainage improvements
  6. Town Beach maintenance project
  7. Various sidewalk replacement and improvements
  8. Morgan Park Road and sidewalk reconstruction (noted earlier in article)
  9. Ark Road-Medley Lane-Feather Bed drainage and reconstruction project
ClintonFan October 19, 2011 at 01:12 PM
Pete Neff and his crew at DPW do an incredible job for the Town of Clinton. Thank you!
Bruce Lighty October 19, 2011 at 02:18 PM
I agree completely. I see Pete personally all over town leading his crew. Also, I don't use the transfer station often, but when I do I am always treated in a courteous and friendly manner.
Andrea Reu October 19, 2011 at 06:17 PM
Clinton Public Works Department the "we" and the leadership of Pete Neff is truly appreciated by the community. Thank you for all you do, and for doing it well.
Jane Scully Welch October 20, 2011 at 01:46 AM
Congratulations to Pete and the DPW for their Best Foot Forward Award...given to them tonight by the Chamber of Commerce. So well deserved. And as our State Rep Jim Crawford said at the ceremony...how amazing Clinton is that they give out such awards... other Towns do not do this......we honor our citizens for that which they do for our Town. And after seeing those so honored tonight...we are a very rich Town...and we should all be so very proud!!!!
Vito Bratta October 20, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Arthur, you are quite the prolific writer as of late. From your piece on the dump to the riveting series on the Department of Public Works, you are producing an impressive body of work. I am wondering one thing however: why did you pass your anti-Republican screed onto Andrea Reu for publication in the Harbor News instead of publishing it on the Patch? Certainly you were proud of this. I am just wondering why you would give it to someone else who in turn has it published with a direct competitor? A question for the ages I guess.

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