The following editorial was printed in the Weymouth News, submitted by Linda MacDonald.
June 12, 2012
“The quickest way to kill the human spirit is to ask someone to do mediocre work.” Ayn Rand
When you sit on information for a long time, it begins to lose its ability to shock. You begin to doubt yourself. You think—Is this really as bad as I think it is? Am I missing something? Eventually you come to the conclusion that this must be how politicians become complacent…and, then, complicit.
Last summer I notified the DPW that a box of unsightly trash was teetering on the edge of the bridge that crossed Whitman’s Pond on Rt. 53. Two weeks later I jogged by the spot again and the trash was still there. I notified the district councilor and spoke to the DPW director and got the same excuses. There are so many miles of roads in Weymouth, we’re short staffed, we’ll get to it, blah, blah, etc. I thought, how hard it would it be for one of the guys to stop and put the trash in the DPW truck. Why all the excuses?
Last August, in an effort to understand, I requested and received job descriptions, the number of employees, and copies of the negotiated contracts from the DPW and, while I was at it, (since they have shared responsibilities) the school maintenance and custodial departments. I put together spreadsheets and notes on what I thought were glaring issues and sent copies to school and DPW administrators, some school committee and town council members, and Mayor Kay.
In response I received two acknowledgements of the information and then nothing. Eventually I gave the information to our town auditor who told me that the council president, “his boss”, told him he could not discuss the information with me. So my effort to determine the veracity of the excuses I was given for neglecting a relatively easy task has sat on a bookcase shelf for several months. Now I’m going to let you decide.
In pure numbers, as of August 2010, there were 66.5 Full-time equivalent (FTE) employees in the DPW (includes the Water and Sewer Departments), 21 FTE in School Maintenance and 38 school custodians. The town employs additional custodians for town buildings. The total projected (FY12) budget for the DPW is close to $32 million (taxes and water and sewer receipts) and $5.1 million for school maintenance and custodial services.
(On a side note, up until this year custodians were included in the budgets of individual schools. One of the things that “shocked” me was that we spent more on custodians at the high school than we did on guidance although college admission is a big push for the town.)
Out of the 66.5 employees in the DPW, a third is administrative, professional or clerical staffs who do little or no manual labor and only half of the staff is covered by the union contract. A majority of the employees are in very narrowly defined jobs such as Water Meter Reader or Laboratory Technician. If the union culture keeps crafts from crossing, then the DPW has 2 maintenance men and 2 laborers whose job descriptions are broad enough to have expected them to collect the trash from the bridge.
However, the job descriptions themselves are one of those glaring issues. Most of them are outdated (a laborer, for example, only requires an elementary school education) and/or incomplete, supervision is unclear, and some employees are working in positions without job descriptions. These deficiencies are especially problematic in the school department. Despite the physical labor inherent in maintenance and custodial work, none of the job descriptions specify that the employee must be able to lift a minimum amount of weight or be able to climb ladders or stoop, crawl, reach etc. And it seems that everyone plows snow but no one has to have a good driving record or even a driver’s license.
While this might seem self-explanatory, not listing the minimum qualifications or physical requirements for a job leaves us in a potentially costly predicament if essential tasks (like closing dumpster covers) are being left undone because employees are not physically capable.
Some of the job titles such as “Laborer and Motor Equipment Operator” belie the true job which lists specific responsibilities as “ ‘in-town’ field trips” and “athletic runs”. Others seem to belong in different departments altogether such as the “Food Service Stores Delivery”. And at least one employee works primarily in the schools but is paid by the DPW.
Six jobs have no description. One of these is for the two employees who perform “School Patrol”. This job is also mentioned in other job descriptions such as “Stores Delivery” which list one of the duties as downloading the Detex clock system that ensures that the patrol was done. A well written job description gives supervisors a basis for employee evaluation and the lack of one makes one wonder what purpose the job actually serves.
Contracts for DPW, school maintenance and custodial staff differ in enough ways to make expectations for collaboration between these departments difficult and potentially expensive. For example, school maintenance employees have four personal days per year while DPW employees bargained for one and DPW employees get tuition reimbursement while school maintenance and custodians, interestingly, have none. Overtime, shift differentials, and overtime meal allowances are different, detailed and convoluted in all three departments in a way that must make payroll heads spin.
My theory for why the trash teetered on the edge of Whitman’s Pond for so long is simply that we have allowed the DPW, School Maintenance and Custodial departments to fly under the radar for far too long. While I do believe that the DPW is poorly staffed; outdated, incomplete and or missing job descriptions have left our employees with little accountability or direction. Jobs that are too defined (i.e. Heavy Equipment Operator) leave us without the flexibility to prioritize projects and with employees who perform rote and, often, unnecessary work. A lack of equitable contracts among employees doing similar work has lead to competition and turf protection rather than collaboration.
Ultimately though, the responsibility for prioritizing the role of public works and evaluating the procedures, policies and practices of the DPW and School Maintenance departments lies with our elected officials and their appointed department heads. Since the problems predate our current charter, our elected officials need to know from you that they can safely address these issues without incurring blame. I hope that you agree with me, that it is high time that they did.