Councilors decry mayor's move to split Public Works Department
BY P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
8/03/11 at 8:52 AM
Read more about the conflicts between the mayor and City Council.
Several city councilors on Tuesday criticized Mayor Dewey Bartlett's move to break up the Public Works Department into three departments and urged him to reverse his actions.
"Breaking up Public Works is a serious deal that is going to hurt us in the long run," Councilor Jack Henderson said. "Nobody ever said it was broke."
During a council committee meeting, Bartlett said that when former Public Works Director Charles Hardt retired, "there was an opportunity. Splitting up the department makes more common sense and more efficient use of our employees."
Bartlett said the process is ongoing and ultimately will benefit the taxpayers, "the ones paying for all of this."
"If we can use our best judgments and our best experiences, and in the end it works out OK, well, then, hooray," he said.
The Public Works Department was created in 1990 as a consolidation of the water, sewer, streets, stormwater, and engineering departments.
Bartlett has divided it into the Water and Sewer Department, the Streets and Stormwater Department, and the Engineering Department, each with its own department head.
Henderson said the city has gone from a public works director reporting to the mayor to three department heads reporting to a supervisor, who reports to City Manager Jim Twombly, who reports to Chief of Staff Terry Simonson and the mayor.
"It doesn't seem streamlined," he said. "You've actually created some levels of management that is more confusing to me."
Councilor Maria Barnes added, "I think this is a bad idea."
She told Bartlett she wanted the council's position known "so that when this does go way south that they have a record that the councilors had suggested and asked that you not do this."
Barnes said she doesn't buy Bartlett's reasoning because there are "very qualified" people in the city that could easily step into Hardt's position.
Bartlett said last year's KPMG efficiency study and the 2009 EMA audit of the Public Works Department played a role in his decision to split up the department.
But Councilor Rick Westcott said that neither KPMG nor EMA recommended splitting up the department.
Westcott said several recommendations in the EMA study haven't been implemented and could save the city $600,000. Instead of following up on those recommendations, that study was "tossed aside," he said.
The EMA study was conducted under former Mayor Kathy Taylor and cost the city roughly $240,000.
"Why would we not try these minor tweaks before we take a sledgehammer to the Public Works Department?" Westcott asked.
Bartlett said the KPMG and EMA reports do speak to transparency and efficiency, and he noted that each mayor brings a new perspective to office on how to operate the city.
Westcott asked whether the Public Works breakup is an idea from Simonson's report, "Competing in the 21st Century," written in about 2003.
Simonson's report mostly focuses on managed competition highlighting the very steps the city has taken: contracting with KPMG, setting up the Management Review Office and implementing recommendations, according to a review by the Tulsa World. There is no mention of reorganizing the Public Works Department.
Bartlett said decisions made by the administration have not come solely from Simonson but from a group effort.
The mayor added that one reason for reorganizing Public Works was that it was a better fit for his management style.
Westcott told the mayor that reorganizing the largest city department for that reason seemed "superficial."
"I know change is difficult," Bartlett replied. "Sometimes the concepts are difficult to absorb."
Original Print Headline: Councilors decry split of Public Works
P.J. Lassek 918-581-8382
Mayor Dewey Bartlett: "I know change is difficult. Sometimes the concepts are difficult to absorb."