Savings to be had in Ypsi’s Public Services Department

Linette’s out with friends tonight, so I’m sitting here, at the kitchen table, pouring over City Council meeting minutes from the last year, looking for possible savings to be had in the budget. If I can come up with about $90k in the budget, I’m told, we can keep a fire fighter. So, that’s what I’m doing. And, I’m making some headway. I’ve found the January 19 City Council goal-setting packet (PDF) to be of particular interest, as it includes a consultant’s analysis of the Department of Public Services (DPS). There are a number of points worthy of discussion, like the fact that the people working in that department are presently given 3.5-hours each day in breaks, which is more than they’re entitled to according to their work contract, but, for right now, I’d like to focus on the position of General Superintendent.

ypsipubworks2

According to Mark Notley, of Municipal Consulting Services LLC, if we were to eliminate this position, which seems to have no discernible function, we would save approximately $75,000 per year. Not enough for a fire fighter, but almost… Here’s a clip from the report:

As seen in Exhibit 1, DPS has 21 employees, 20 of which are full-time. The administrative function of DPS has four employees, including the Director of Public Services, the General Superintendent, the Office Manager and a DPS Generalist. Our findings regarding administration focus on these four positions and include the following:

1. THE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC SERVICES IS RELATIVELY NEW TO THE POSITION. SOME PROGRESS HAS BEEN MADE IN CORRECTING LONGSTANDING INEFFICIENCIES, BUT MANY STILL EXIST.

In 1999, our project team conducted a similar study of the Ypsilanti Department of Public Services. A key conclusion of that study was that poor management practices had negatively impacted the department in numerous ways. More than twenty recommendations were made to upgrade operations, with most being dependent on the improvement of management systems.
Since that time, DPS has had two Directors, prior to the current incumbent. Each had a strong background in construction management and/or public works. Under their direction some improvements were made to operations, including a number of changes recommended in the 1999 study.

The current Director of Public Services assumed the position in 2008. The Director does not possess a background in either public works or construction management; though he did play a key role in capital project management for the City prior to assuming the position. In this sense, the Director has been subjected to a challenging “learning curve” over a short period of time. To his credit, it appears that the Director has faced this challenge in a positive and focused manner; seeking out and availing himself of professional learning opportunities.

From an operational perspective, the Director has improved worker accountability. Moreover, some involuntary turnover has occurred and some new practices have been established. New, additional administrative duties, such as stimulus funding management and energy efficiency programming, have been successfully incorporated into the Director’s workload.

In summary, the Director appears busy and generally productive. The necessity to learn public works principles and the job more generally has put a short-term burden on the incumbent. However, this aspect of the workload appears to be diminishing as knowledge and experience is acquired.

In this situation, the Director will be positioned to focus more time on internal issues, such as communication channels, supervisory oversight and the implementation of new, modern, cost effective ways of doing business.

Related to this, we have thoroughly evaluated all operating systems to determine where cost efficiencies can be realized. In the City’s current financial condition it is imperative that these changes be successfully implemented. The Director appears to possess the professional demeanor necessary to oversee the change process. In this sense, it is our hope that this report will service to guide the process of organizational change for the purpose of creating a more cost efficient and responsive operation.

2. THE GENERAL SUPERINTENDENT POSITION MAY BE A LUXURY THAT THE CITY CANNOT AFFORD.

The General Superintendent position was created by the previous Director of Public Services to replace a Public Works Supervisor position following the retirement of the incumbent. A General Foreman-Streets position was also created to oversee the day-to- day activities of the Streets Division. Essentially, as seen Exhibit 1, the new General Superintendent position that was created is purely administrative.

As previously mentioned, DPS is a relatively small operation with a total of 21 employees. Moreover, the work scope is narrower than many public works departments due to the lack of water and sewer responsibility. In this situation an extra layer of administration appears unnecessary and costly – and we question the wisdom of creating the General Superintendent position.

In regard to duties, the responsibilities of the General Superintendent are not extensive, or well defined. Purportedly, the position directs the efforts of the two General Foreman, the sign shop and the motor pool. However, we were unable to quantify the substance of this oversight – each of these operating areas (particularly streets, motor pool and environmental services) appears to receive limited meaningful input from the General Superintendent. Even if this were not the case, the presence of an extra layer of administration is simply not productive. In such a small operation, oversight of these functions should be the Director’s responsibility.

As part of the study process we have surveyed other similar-sized municipalities regarding particular public works operating practices. One item that was surveyed was the General Superintendent (deputy) position. As seen in Exhibit 2, none of the eight surveyed public works operations have a similar position. Reportedly, in these cities the field supervisors report directly to the Director. A similar organizational alignment would also seem appropriate for DPS…

I imagine that City Council is already taking action on this recommendation, but I’ve yet to receive confirmation of that.

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7 Comments

  1. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    I didn’t make it to the January 19 meeting, and I was highly disappointed to find there was media coverage of it what so ever.

    Later in the report, there is also a suggestion to outsource lawn mowing, which could allow for the elimination of a Heavy Equipment Operator position, and those two cuts get us a fire fighter with a little left to spare. That makes the decision to cut the parks contract all the more troubling; if it had been allowed to mature and the promised personnel cut had been made, we would have that $90,000 that we need. Another combination would be the elimination of the general superintendent position, and an additional 20% reduction in council’s salary, bringing the total reduction in council’s budget to around $22,000.

  2. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    um, that was supposed to be no media coverage what so ever. No live stream I could find, and no reporting after the fact, which means a letter a council person or waiting for the next meeting for the official minutes. Made me wish I had cleared my schedule.

  3. mSS
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    “Well-well look. I already told you: I deal with the god damn customers so the engineers don’t have to. I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can’t you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people? “

  4. Kim
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    So can someone verify if action is being taken based on the suggestions of this consultant?

  5. Kim
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    And what’s the deal with hiring a Director of Public Services who doesn’t have relevant experience?

  6. Curt Waugh
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I SO wanted to get the “Office Space” comment in first. mSS, you’re my hero.

    Whatever the hell else you do, budget for the stapler and let him take the damn thing when he goes.

  7. Posted January 27, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    I asked around a bit, and it looks as though no action has been taken yet. I think, however, that’s just due to the nature of things, the involvement of the union, etc. In other words, I think City Council is inclined to act, I just think it’s going to take some time.

    The more troubling thing, I think, is that, even after all of the cuts we’ve gone through, we still had someone on the payroll with no discernible job function.

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