Weymouth DPW

The following editorial was printed in the Weymouth News, submitted by Linda MacDonald.

June 12, 2012


Public works?


“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.



Just Another BoMo

Not too long ago, I remember someone asking Sue Kay, the Mayor of Weymouth, why the town didn’t consider levying a tax on motels in town as a means of raising revenues. The motel tax was something new in the Commonwealth that many municipalities were using as way of raising money. Mayor Kay somewhat joked about the idea, and rightly so, after all there are only two motels located within Weymouth and the amount of money that could be gotten would be a mere pittance and certainly not worth the effort required in collecting and keeping track of it. Historically, the Town of Weymouth once was an important stop along the way to other destinations such as Nantasket and Cape Cod, but not anymore. As much as its citizens might like to see Weymouth become a popular tourist destination, and I’m not saying that can’t happen, it doesn’t appear to be trending in that direction. When it does, maybe then we can consider building more motels.

More motels you say? Yes, it appears that the owner of the Super 8 Motel on Route 53, the old Boston Motel or BoMo, as it is affectionately referred to locally, wants to build another high end venture on the site of the former Bernie and Phyll’s Furniture store. No doubt he wishes to capitalize on the Super 8’s reputation as a bastion of warm hospitality to the many high rollers that make Weymouth a regular stop on their way to getting tattooed in Hull or checking out the livestock at the Marshfield Fair. Perhaps the owner should use the Weymouth Police blotter as a referral on the application to build this 14 unit low rent apartment masquerading as a motel. I didn’t know there was that much room at that location. A quick run of the numbers- a 14 unit motel, with a function room and pool area with parking to boot? I say no way. Maybe the developer was planning on having patrons park down at the Village Cemetery.

Anyway, the proposal is going before the planning committee for review on Wednesday, December 21 at 3:00 p.m. The meeting will be conducted on the 3rd floor of the town hall. I hear at least a couple of Town Councilors are opposed, as well they should be. You can voice your opinion too, by either going to the meeting or e-mailing your Town Councilors and the Mayor. They can be contacted through the town’s web site http://www.weymouth.ma.us/council/index.asp.

Merry Christmas

It has become an annual occurrence during the holiday season. Yes, of course putting up the “Christmas” trees, decorating our homes with lovely “holiday” lights as usual, but I’m referring to the annual round of political misinformation that always happens this time of year; when my conservative friends, instead of spreading goodwill to all, spread the “we have to say Happy Holidays and not Merry Christmas” nonsense. It amazes me how they twist this bit of religious hokey pokey around so that it appears liberal thinkers are actually behind its origin. The truth is that it wouldn’t even be mentioned if conservatives didn’t keep bringing it up.

I recently received one of those e-mails we all get, you know the ones, based on half truths and misleading opinions attributed to celebrities that we are supposed to pass on to others. I never believe any of them, never pass them along, but occasionally do a quick check into their validity. This one was supposedly said by Ben Stein, an actor/speech writer (what a combo) who happens to be Jewish. It begins by stating that the White House, for the first time this year is calling Christmas Trees, Holiday Trees. That is the first mistruth; the White House, nor anyone associated with the White House, including the President, did not say that.

The message goes on to include a commentary written by Ben Stein in response to that mistruth. Parts of the commentary are actually true, and were written by Mr. Stein, but in fact were written a few years ago as a general opinion on how our society spends too much time worshipping celebrities instead of God, or any Supreme Being. In the commentary he also writes, “where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica (in reference to Nick and Jessica Simpson, two well known celebrities at that time) and we aren’t allowed to worship God as we understand Him? That part of Mr. Stein’s opinion is missing from the e-mail message and is replaced with a section about Billy Graham’s daughter and another referring to terrorist attacks, Madeline Murray O’Hare, and Dr. Benjamin Spock. Those sections were not written by Ben Stein and probably aren’t true.

The bottom line is that this is America, and if you want to say “Merry Christmas”, say it. Oh, and the White House/President calls Christmas Trees, “Christmas Trees”, but if they wanted to call them “Holiday” trees, I could care less. I try to be a good christian, and I do beleive in God. If you aren’t christian or don’t beleive in the same God as I do, or don’t beleive in God at all, that’s your business and your right; here in America. I’ll still wish you a Merry Christmas.

Ora’s House

When we pulled up to Ora’s house the first thing I noticed was the back porch was beginning to cave in. I’m a contractor so these are the kind of things I see first. As I took a walk around her house, there was deteriorated wood everywhere, and I could see immediately that the roof was leaking. I had envisioned, prior to my arrival here, particular tasks that I would be instructed to undertake, but that wouldn’t be the case with Ora’s house. To steal a phrase from a current television program, Ora’s house needed an “extreme makeover”. We certainly had the manpower and woman-power; there were twenty of us of all ages and backgrounds. I didn’t know any of my new family members yet, other than seeing them on Sundays at Old South Church, but I was about to learn that we were a family of angels, as Ora aptly named us.

Ora and her angels

Darrell, I quickly learned was a guy just like me, a contractor slash carpenter slash all around master of nothing but getting things done. I knew, even if he didn’t, that we would be Ora’s Michael and Raphael, leading the angelic assault on repairing her home. We made a quick assessment that the house needed a new roof, fascia and soffits, painting and caulking, and the back porch needed a complete overhaul. The stairs leading to the front of the house needed to be rebuilt and the back patio wall was in disrepair; oh and I almost forgot, Ora also needed a new water heater. There was relatively no material or equipment on site, except some ladders and 5 sheets of plywood, and we had already lost a day’s work due to our bus breaking down on the journey to Princeton, West Virginia.
Darrell made a stock list and set about dispatching some people to make a trip to the local lumber yard while I took Carrie and Karen under my wings to make roofers out of them. A new roof wouldn’t be possible given the time we had to complete the work; four days, so Carrie and Karen began installing metal and shingle flashing along the roof where it was obviously leaking and spread some asphalt around the chimneys. While some angels made their way to the lumber yard, Darrell and I agreed that the upper roof over the rear porch needed to be demolished. We cut up the roof and structure, dismantling it piece by piece, throwing each scrap on the ground and watching our winged soldiers: Paula, Donna and Kathy cart them away.
Meanwhile, the rest of our army attacked the other tasks. Fran and Richie worked on the front stairs, Bill and Linda stripped down the siding adjacent the chimney and replaced it with all new wood, then did the same with the fascias and soffits. Joanna, was our own personal nurse, caring for bee stings, cuts and bruises; that is, when she wasn’t leading the charge on painting and caulking with Darren, Charlie, Joe, Jillian, Christine and Jessica.
When more materials arrived our roofing crew, Carrie, Karen and Donna, installed a new roof on the rear porch section that was once a floor. The door was blocked off, the wall re-mortared and new support columns were installed. When all was said and done, the landscaping team consisting of everyone, chipped in and planted new shrubs for good measure. Oh yes, and the water heater was installed by everybody’s favorite angel, Brian. Brian provides the underlying strength of Ora’s little army of angels by keeping our bellies full.
On the fourth day when all the work was done, Ora and her army of angels cried tears of joy for they knew that God was smiling down on them. I will never forget all of our family of angels and I am comforted in knowing that Ora is now a part of it, forever.

A Sort Of Good Friend

The South Shore Hospital has been a good friend of Weymouth for many years. I’m sure they are now the largest employer in town and certainly one of the largest on the South Shore. They have grown over the years from a single brick building on the corner of Main and Columbian Street to a multi building facility that spans acres along Route 18 and over to Columbian Square. Lots of money goes through South Shore Hospital; not too long ago I spent an hour and a half there and it cost me over $4,500, but I’ll save that complaint for another day. While you’re reading this complaint, keep in mind that this hospital does not pay taxes. I haven’t done the math, so it’s difficult to say whether the benefit to the Town Of Weymouth monetarily, is positive or negative; and certainly the association this town has had with the hospital isn’t just about statistics, although it would be good to know.
For me, the relationship of this town and this hospital is symbolized by a stretch of Columbian Street which is about 200 yards long. I’ve been traveling down that section of road for many years and there have been many changes, all brought on, and I’m sure partially paid for, by South Shore Hospital. They have basically taken over ownership of this part of Columbian Street. There once was a church on the corner at Fogg Road, which was torn down long ago and paved over to be used as a parking lot for the hospital, even though it does not own the land. The church maintains a good relationship with the hospital and gets to use the lot on Sundays and even lets the hospital have their annual outing on the front lawn of the church with one of those big tents. The grass gets a little beat up and sometimes the tent crew drives a stake through the sprinkler system but it all seems to work out in the end. The positive outweighs the negative, I think.
The hospital has their own security team, who drive around in shiny new vehicles to make sure only patients park in the parking lot. Not even their own employees can park there. They park all throughout Columbian Square pretty much anywhere they can take up a spot that a tax paying consumer would normally use to shop in the local stores. They’ve made up for that inconvenience by beautifying this section of roadway. There’s new sidewalks, signage and plantings, and they cut through the pavement in a couple of spots and installed nice brick cross-walks. It looks so good I’m thinking of doing it in front of my house as soon I figure out how to cut through that asphalt street. Of course you can’t park on that street anymore, in fact, don’t even stop, you’ll get a ticket; but hey, I suppose the benefit outweighs the detriment.
When you travel toward the traffic light at Route 18, be prepared to stop for emergency vehicles, trucks at the loading dock, cars entering and exiting the parking lots; and all those folks using the crosswalks, predominantly marked, telling you to stop for pedestrians. There’s no way you could go over 10 miles per hour on that stretch of road. The funny thing is, somebody important must get after our police department because I see where they installed one of those speed monitoring signs, you know, the ones that clock your speed. It was right there beside the emergency entrance. I couldn’t build up enough speed to make it go over 15 mph. What’s crazy is that people speed through Columbian Square all the time, and nobody ever stops for pedestrians in the crosswalks; and the police are never in the square. You’d think with all those tax-paying merchants in the square that the town could do something about that.
When you finally get down to the traffic light at Route 18, you know, the one with the camera, you can turn right on red. The problem there is that the hospital put a nice big, brick sign there so there’s no way you can see oncoming traffic unless you straddle the crosswalk and keep the nose of your vehicle perilously close to getting clipped. There probably should be a “no turn on red” sign put there before somebody gets killed, either in the crosswalk, or by getting blind-sided. Maybe they will eventually, once the hospital decides that the negative outweighs the positive.
If the hospital can convince our police force to monitor the speed on Columbian Street, then maybe they could also pay to have a police presence in the square, full time. Now that would be a positive for everyone.

Freedom Every Day

I most often read the Weymouth News on-line these days. I like that format because it allows for comments even though a lot of people can’t seem to get around name calling and staying on subject. The past couple of years have been tough on our Town Of Weymouth, as it has been for all the cities and towns, and most of the news and subsequent comments can be a bit disheartening, even cruel; but that’s America for you, having the freedom to say what you want.
Personally, I’m proud of my town and the long tradition it has of recognizing those that defend our right to say what we want. No matter where I go in this town I see signs that remind me, not only that freedom shouldn’t be taken for granted, but that maybe things really aren’t all that bad here at home. Not too long ago I was traveling down Pleasant Street by Mutton Lane just after the sun had gone down and saw a lone figure walking over to the corner owned by Lt. Commander Laurence MacFawn. The head lights of passing cars lit up the man’s full white beard as he placed two United States flags on the Commander’s sign post and I thought “Wow, I guess that’s what Santa does when it’s not Christmas.” I smiled to myself for thinking that, knowing full well that the man was Weymouth’s Veterans Affairs Officer, Frank Burke. Mr. Burke has had to deal with budget cuts like all town employees recently and I suppose if he decided to skip placing those flags here and there, that they might not be missed. The thing is, Commander MacFawn was a Weymouth guy who piloted a jet off of an air craft carrier during World War Two. He was part of a unit called “The Saints” who sank quite a few Japanese war ships in the Pacific. In fact he did the same thing in the Korean War and probably would have done the same thing in Vietnam too, but because he chose a life of sacrifice, he made the ultimate sacrifice one day when the fighter he was piloting crashed. I figure at some point the economy will get better and all those people that got laid off will be back to work soon.
I often find myself sitting in traffic these days on Main Street. I still like to call it Main Street even though the State of Massachusetts has kind of taken it over and it’s better known as Route 18 now; and there are traffic lights and Dunkin Donuts galore all adding up to congestion and road rage. Whenever I’m sitting there, I try to remember to look over at Ernest Mowry’s sign. It’s not far from the Stetson Building on the median between Main and Front Streets. I fully expect that someday the sign will be gone, and never replaced. That’s what happened to Parker Jones sign further up Main Street by Factory Paint. For some reason, we’re calling it Poole’s Corner now. It may have been called Poole’s Corner before Parker Jones gave his life for our country and that’s okay, but they could have left his sign there. All I know is nobody remembers that it was named for Parker Jones. Second Lt. Jones was killed in action during the First World War, but he grew up right there on Pond Street not far from that intersection.
Anyway, it’s always a pleasure to see Private Mowry’s sign still there, with flags on it. Ernest Mowry actually grew up on Central Street, over by Stella Tirrell Park. He was an original member of the Fifth Marine Regiment. They were one of the first of America’s Expeditionary Forces to see the front lines, or Western Front in World War I. He was wounded on three separate occasions, returning to battle each time, until finally a bomb cut him down. That was in 1918, just 9 days before the Germans surrendered. He finally made it back to his hometown almost 3 years later, when his remains were repatriated. The American Legion helped bury him in that cemetery up on Pond Street and then a little while later the town remembered him by placing that sign there on Main Street. I don’t mind sitting in the traffic so much when I see his sign, with the flags on it.
I hear Mr. Burke will soon have another sign to put flags on. It’s going to be on Pleasant Street over by the High School. It’s going to be named for another young Marine Sgt., named Andrew Farrar, who died in Iraq. That corner isn’t far from the high school football field that’s named for Army Sgt. Jeffrey Mullin who was a casualty of the Gulf War; and about a ¼ mile the other way there’s Lt. Ralph Talbot’s street and corner. It’s hard to believe that young Weymouth men, and now even women, still have to go to faraway places to defend our comfortable hometown. It’s good that our comfortable hometown remembers them and reminds us every day, not just on Memorial Day, that things aren’t so bad.

No More Snow

I may be jinxing myself, (is jinxing a word?) but I’m betting the snow is over with for another season. Spring has officially arrived and although its been cold this week and very much un-Spring like, I’m feeling good about it. We had a dusting yesterday that had been forecasted as a couple of inches. I was pleasantly surprised and didn’t bother cleaning the snow off my van although it was probably a half-inch at least. That technically means, according to State Rep. Cleon Turner, D-Dennis, that I should be fined. Rep. Turner filed legislation at the State House this past winter that would require drivers to remove ice and snow from their vehicles before hitting the road. His bill, which doesn’t specify fines, targets vehicles with roofs larger than 10 square feet with at least one-quarter an inch of snow or ice. How absurd. Thank goodness the majority of our Reps. had the sense to vote this one out. I’m sure that the good Rep. was actually targeting the knit-wits who drive around with a foot of snow on their vehicles, and that’s the way the bill should have read. A quarter-inch is nothing and would harm no one. The extreme winter season and continuous media hype over excess snow contributed to a lot of extreme thinking. Laws for shoveling roofs, laws for shoveling sidewalks, ticketing folks who don’t shovel or put snow in others way; give me a break. Glad it’s over, tee it up.

This is a CBS Boston article about snow on vehicle roofs.