Council discusses creating new Public Works Dept.


BROOKINGS – The Brookings City Council discussed creating a Public Works Department during its study session last week.

“The city manager is recommending a reorganization with the establishment of a Public Works Department to develop a more cohesive department with coordinated efforts of services for the community. The department would contain the functions of engineering, stormwater, airport, snow removal, mosquito control, street maintenance, fleet, landfill and refuse collection,” according to a memo from City Manager Paul Briseno.

“This recommendation does not add any new employees and has no impact on the General Fund. The restructuring allows for a future savings in salaries with less departments/directors,” according to Briseno’s memo.

He said he and staff had done research with peer cities in South Dakota to see how they structured their Public Works Departments and other points: population, form of government, and whether they were college towns.

A director would be chosen for the Public Works Department. Brookings now has 15 departments; under the restructuring, there would be 11, Briseno said. 

Three departments – Engineering, Street, and Solid Waste – would fall under the direction of Public Works. 

The liquor store, Finance Department, and Swiftel Center would come under the direction of the city’s chief financial officer.

The transition would utilize two open positions in the Street Department: the Street Department director and an office manager, so there would be no full-time employees added, no sales tax or property tax needed, and no impact to the General Fund, Briseno said, adding any additional funds needed would be augmented by the Solid Waste Department.

Eventually, the department heads in Engineering and Solid Waste would become managers, which would create savings, he added.

Council comments

Councilor Leah Brink mentioned that the assistant city manager does not have supervisory power, but the CFO does.

The assistant city manager provides oversight, “but also guidance to the department heads, when I can’t always be there,” Briseno said. 

Brink wanted clarification on the areas that will be placed under the CFO, Erick Rangel.

“Would Finance still be a department within a department head or manager level there, reporting to the CFO? Or it is implied that that’s still Erick?” she asked.

“It’s implied that that’s still Erick. Erick would be over the finance division, liquor store division and then Swiftel Center,” Briseno said.

The Swiftel Center has always been part of the city’s work chart, “but it isn’t really a department,” Briseno said. “We have no employees out there; it is our facility, but we do contract it.”

Swiftel Director Tom Richter does attend most leadership meetings as an advocate for the Swiftel Center.

Brink wanted more information on staffing and pay grades, particularly as it pertained to managers versus department heads.

Briseno recommended that the Engineering and Solid Waste department heads, Jackie Lanning and Todd Langland, respectively, retain their titles and pay scale until they transition out.

“Jackie … she’s put in 30 years of service to this organization, and I greatly appreciate her service. And Todd, as well, he’s put in just as many years of service. They are great people and they’ll be an integral part of this success, if council approves it,” Briseno said.

Councilor Patty Bacon asked if the heads of Engineering, Street and Solid Waste would be getting demoted.

“No,” the current heads of Engineering and Solid Waste would remain as directors with the same pay, Briseno said.

“They would report to the Public Works director. Once they transition out of the city, hopefully not for a few years, then at that point in time, we would transition those jobs, those positions into manager positions, which would be a decrease in pay,” Briseno said.

Briseno has about six hours a week for open office hours for anyone on city staff or in the public to talk to him. He communicates with staff on high-level topics to keep up with the various things the city has going. 

“In those times when I can’t be there to provide direct guidance, a lot of times, the department heads will meet with the assistant city manager,” Briseno said, adding that Meshke has regular monthly meetings with department heads.

Meshke plays an integral role in putting the budget together and assists with policy development. 

“He never does give direction; he gives recommendations,” Briseno said, adding the department heads can come see him, as well. “Where we have so many departments, I want to make sure that we always have someone there to provide guidance if I’m not available at any given time.”

Job description

Councilor Nick Wendell questioned why the language in the job description for the Public Works director was so general, pointing out “relationship building and leadership and communication and cultural development and maybe less on engineering and streets and, kind of, the elements of oversight that a director would have.”

Briseno pointed out it was an advertisement and the actual job description would be more detailed. The ideal candidate could have a background in engineering, environmental, sustainability, finance, or public management. 

“What I would recommend is a manager or a leader that is able to provide that insight” for the division managers, Briseno said.

The city has the resources internally already, he said, with Langland in Solid Waste and Lanning in Engineering. 

“This individual would be able to take all those resources … most importantly, they would need to be a manager and a good leader,” Briseno said, adding the city has a strategic plan that requires a lot of heavy lifting, a lot of policy that impacts the community, like streets, storm water, engineering, solid waste, and environment. 

Brink said she’d been thinking of the hard skills versus soft skills, too, which could be difficult to find in one individual. She said the salary to lure an individual to Brookings might be a challenge, based on listings for cities the size of Brookings. Some cities require a public works director to manage the public utilities, but Brookings does not. 

Briseno said he’d talked to the manager in Bozeman, Montana, which is a peer college town. The recommendation was to separate wet utilities, such as water and wastewater, and dry utilities, like solid waste.

“As far as the ideal candidate, it is difficult to find someone, and I don’t think Brookings, South Dakota, should ever settle. And if you move forward with this, I would recommend we keep it open until we find that ideal candidate,” he said. “There are many professionals out there that are interested in these positions.”

He’s seen former city managers as public works directors, because the position calls for the leadership, knowledge and diversification they often hold.

Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne questioned if the city would be limiting the candidate pool in the future by downgrading the heads of Engineering and Solid Waste to managers.

“I think what’s key here is ensuring that we’re grooming those people that are currently below those department heads – one, two levels below them,” Briseno said. “It’s always great to have people locally and internally take those jobs. But once again, you try to find the best candidate.”

Tilton Byrne pointed out the organizational chart called to put the liquor store under the CFO and asked if that would downgrade the liquor store from a departmental head to a manager.

“That position currently is a manager, and so it’s not a director position,” Briseno said.

Councilor Joey Collins asked Briseno what the salary might be.

The salary for the Public Works director is on par with the current city engineer department director position. “It’s exactly that same level,” Briseno said, adding he can give more details at the meeting Oct. 27 once he does more research.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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