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When Hell Freezes Over - Part II

A look at tropical storm Irene and her buddies at the Clinton Department of Public Works

To read .

Before we get to the meat of this section, I need to correct a common misconception I hear voiced quite often.

A resident sees a employee cutting grass, making a repair at the beach or doing some other job at five or six o'clock in the evening. The immediate reaction is why are they working overtime? Can't they plan their work better? That's my tax money they're spending.

It looks like overtime, but isn't. Why? About three years ago, when the current director (Peter Neff) took over, he put into operation a clause that had always existed in the union contract, but had never been employed: That of a flextime person.

In other words, an employee on a different time schedule to do work that couldn't be practically done during normal hours. Examples are mowing in areas that are in use during the day, certain maintenance items and handling lighting chores at athletic fields. It may be five in the afternoon you see them mowing, but that person is on straight time because he or she is on a flexible or different schedule.

In the directors words, "We are a service organization." We don't direct or make decisions for others, we respond to the needs of other town
agencies."

Again in his words, "If we are asked to do something we try to get it done. If it isn't within our ability to do it ourselves, we find a way to have it accomplished by outside forces, through bidding etc."

How big is their budget? One and a half million dollars and the director can tell you where every penny of that is spent.

Thoroughly familiar with the accounting system (Phoenix) being used by the town, to which he is connected, everything is accounted for and available for review at his desk, real time.

With this system, Peter can bring up maintenance records on any of his fleet of trucks, loader or myriad of smaller equipment, some of which are getting to be road-weary at 20 to 25 years of age. Every project and its costs, as well as personnel utilization is also there to be reviewed.

Though there are still some items to be worked out, such as a refining the uniform purchase order system so it can be utilized electronically entirely from a department without an intermediate step of physically obtaining paperwork from town hall: The end is in sight.

The director also happens to be a member of the financial procedures committee that has been working on procedures and policy requirements for all town departments, in concert with the town's financial manager and First Selectman.[1]

Let's get to the nitty-gritty. What happened when Irene came calling?

Because of preplanning, contractors were prequalified and assigned to take part in the recovery operations. This allowed forces to be at work on Sunday morning, just hours after the storm hit.

First came safety and clearing the roads for emergency crew access, then debris removal. Outside contractors were used to speed up the response. The director estimates for the town crew to do the removal themselves would have taken months not days, though they did remove the smaller brush.

They also had to create and get licensed by the State two debris deposit and grinding sites, because it was just too much for the transfer station to handle in their own facility.

Police, fire and public works personnel worked in an integrated and supportive relationship to accomplish their mandate. They used NIMS (National Incident Management System) which I have referenced before in the article on First Selectman duties, which all upper town management personnel are required to be trained in. 

Using the newly installed upgraded interoperable town wide emergency communication system, these three agencies coordinated their efforts to get the needed results. That sign leaning against the whiteboard in the director's office must have seemed particularly appropriate as Irene was bearing down on Clinton.

In Part III (in two weeks) I'll discuss the Director's answers to my usual four questions:

  • What is the hardest part of the Job?
  • What is the best part of the job?
  • What is the most frustrating part of the job?
  • What would you change, if you could?


Until next week,

Arthur Isaacson


PS: After writing this article I was informed that the Clinton Chamber of Commerce will honor the Public Works Department with their
Best Foot Forward award at the Chamber's annual Award Dinner at the on October 19. Director of Public works Peter Neff will accept the award for the department.

[1] By way of disclosure, I am also a member of the Financial Procedures Committee chaired by Douglas Traynor, a member of the Board of Finance.

Jane Scully Welch October 05, 2011 at 01:18 PM
My other comment landed on FB...but I would like to thank Arthur for another good article ....Peter Neff and his men and women do a great job in Clinton...they do so many things none of us ever see....thanks to them!!!!

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