Closer look at creating Public Works Dept.

BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council voted to take a closer look at creating a Public Works Department in a future study session. 

The proposal to create a brand-new Public Works Department was on Tuesday’s agenda as a first reading. 

City Manager Paul Briseno said when a position becomes vacant, departments are challenged to re-evaluate how operations could be improved and keep up with the city’s current needs. To that end, he suggested some restructuring to create a Public Works Department and hire a director for that department. 

He referred to a graphic, attached to the agenda on the city’s website, which showed the existing set-up of the city’s departments. Voters determine who’s on the city council. The council oversees the city manager and appoints the city attorney, Steve Britzman, and city clerk, Bonnie Foster. Answering to the city manager is the assistant city manager, Jacob Meshke and all 15 of the department heads. 

In the proposed organizational chart, also attached to the agenda, Briseno showed how things would be restructured with the liquor store, finance department and Swiftel Center placed under the guidance of Chief Financial Officer Erick Rangel, and the newly created Public Works Department being responsible for the Engineering Department, Street Department and Solid Waste. Operations would include storm water, airport, snow removal, mosquito control, street maintenance, fleet, landfill and refuse collections. 

“The move reduces the number of departments to 11, and over time, with transition, the directors’ positions would become managers,” Briseno said.

The transition would create savings, he added.

The change will absorb two vacant positions, so the city will not be adding any full-time positions or employees, he said.

“No additional sales tax or property tax would be needed and there would be no impact to the General Fund,” Briseno said.

“More importantly though, re-organization under a Public Works director would create a more cohesive structure for operations and infrastructure investment,” Briseno said.

There would be more collaboration between departments, and they could share resources more efficiently, he added.

“Existing department heads have provided exceptional services and will continue to be the cornerstone progressing this plan forward,” Briseno said.

He said city officials consulted with various entities, including six peer college towns, to create the ideal structuring for the new department. 

Move to study

Councilor Leah Brink said she had a number of questions she wants answered before she’d be prepared to vote, and felt it was important for the council to do its research when undertaking such a big restructuring project and to get input from the public, too. She moved that the topic be referred to a future study session.

Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne said she had questions, as well. She wanted the item on a study session so the council could think “strategically and long-term” about the restructuring of the departments, which would be beneficial to the council and the public.

Briseno said there was a study session scheduled for Oct. 20 and it could be discussed then and requested the councilors give staff questions in advance so they could do research before the meeting.

Brink wanted to be sure there would be enough time for any length of discussion the council may need. 

Briseno said the council had the opportunity to discuss the topic during the meeting that night, the upcoming study session, and during the second reading. 

Tilton Byrne agreed some work sessions can be limited in length because they are usually followed by a regular meeting.

Briseno said the council could make the work session as long as they wanted and suggested an hour and a half. 

Councilor Patty Bacon agreed they should keep discussing Public Works in a study session.

“If we don’t feel comfortable that we have had the full discussion, then we can always table it to another scheduled meeting,” she said.

Mayor Keith Corbett instructed the councilors to get their questions to the city manager, so the staff have time to prepare, and if more time is needed, they’ll figure it out.

“But you’re right, it is important,” Corbett said.

Brink said one thing she was interested in is “a specific financial projection with the salary ranges projected out 10 years into the future with the current structure and then the proposed future structure and what that would look like, based on the assumptions that we’re using to do the modeling today,” and she wanted clarity on the point there would be no increase in personnel.

“We currently have two positions open,” Briseno said. The open positions are director of the Streets Department and an office manager.

They will take the salary of one position and the decrease of the director’s position, then augment that with any needed salary from Solid Waste, he added. 

There will be future savings, when the other two department heads retire and their positions go to manager positions, with additional future savings, he said.

“I don’t know when that will be; that will be up to the individuals,” Briseno said.

“To me, it would seem like a plus-one FTE,” Brink said. 

Briseno gave a bit more explanation on how they would utilize the open positions, eliminating the office manager position.

Brink wanted statements from existing staff to get their input.

“I’ve engaged both Jackie and Todd in this transition,” Briseno said, referring to City Engineer Jackie Lanning and Solid Waste Director Todd Langland. He added he’s been discussing a possible shift to a Public Works Department “over the past couple years” because there are a lot of opportunities to having that type of structure. 

“I’m not necessarily opposed to a Public Words Department,” Tilton Byrne said. “I just want to make sure that if we are going to restructure several of our departments, I just want to make sure that we’re being very mindful of it.”

She wants both the council and public to have a chance to weigh in and wants to look beyond the Public Works Department to how the re-structuring will affect the city overall, because there are changes listed on the graphic that are unrelated to Public Works, referring to the changes under the CFO department. She questioned why the remaining departments were outlined in pink.

Briseno said the assistant city manager position was outlined in pink to connect Meshke to the departments.

“He’s not over those departments, but he does provide them guidance” especially in the absence of the city manager, Briseno said. 

Having 15 departments makes it difficult to meet with all heads on a regular basis, he added.

“Our department heads deserve communication with their manager,” Briseno said.

Other topics

In other business, the council approved: 

• Snow removal contracts and awarded bids on snow and ice removal;

• Contracts for the city’s general employees and Police Union;

• The real estate deal to transfer 3.48 acres from Mike and Kathy McClemans to the city as the next step in the construction project to connect 15th Street South and Seventh Avenue South;

• Storm drainage improvements for the State Avenue Watershed project;

• An ordinance to amend Chapter 51, subdivision regulations, pertaining to information required for a preliminary plat and final plat.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]



Video News
More In Local