City Engineer Richard Miller says he’s ready to take on the role of the head of the Department of Public Works, should the Common Council approve a new local law that clarifies that DPW Foreman Ray Halgas should report to him.
Currently, the position of Director of Public Works is unfilled and unfunded. The city’s charter reads “There shall be a Public Works Department which shall be headed by the Director of Public Works, who shall also be the City Engineer.”
Last month, Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said that at different times in the past, the position of engineer has been both separate and merged with the director’s position. Mayor Ann Thane said that combining the two positions was not a good idea because in the past, “It ended up driving engineers away because they had to be in charge of all the discipline instead of focusing in on engineering.” Thane said a previous common council had approved the hiring of an engineer who was not the director.
The charter allows the mayor to assume the role of department head in the event of a vacancy and upon the approval of the common council. At last Tuesday’s Common Council Meeting, Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler said that the mayor had never received that approval. DeCusatis argued in a previous meeting that because the council has not funded the director’s position, that it had given “defacto” permission for the mayor to act as the department head.
At last week’s committee meeting, four out of the five council members expressed support for a new local law that clarified that the DPW foreman should report to the engineer. When questioned by Thane as to the problem the council hoped to solve with the structure change, Hatzenbuhler said that “lack of discipline” in the department was an issue.
During the same meeting, Alderwoman Valerie Beekman voiced frustration with the other council members’ initiative and said, “I’ll just put it at the bottom line. They don’t want [the mayor] in charge of nothing…you don’t want her doing anything and that’s the point.”
DeCusatis provided a draft of the proposed local law at the Tuesday’s Common Council meeting for introduction purposes.
On Wednesday, Miller said he had no problem with the proposed change and that it would not significantly alter his workload.
“It won’t change anything,” said Miller, “It just gets the line of authority a little more clearly defined and back to where it should have been the way the charter was set up.”
Miller said that he already works with Halgas and the DPW on a regular basis. When asked about the issue of discipline in the department, Miller said that given his day-to-day interactions with the department staff, and given the mayor’s expansive workload, that he thought he would be more accessible.
“I know a lot of the guys down there,” said Miller, “I’ve been there four years, so I know the people down there. So it would work better going through me.”