WESTFIELD – At a special meeting on Sept. 22, the City Council convened to make recommendations to strengthen educational and work experience requirements in the job position for the director of public works, following concerns raised at its meeting on Sept. 17.
A job search will be conducted jointly by the Water Commission and the Board of Public Works due to the impending retirement of current director David Billips at the end of October.
At the meeting, Personnel Action Committee chair Cindy C. Harris brought forward the job description for discussion and a vote.
Council President Brent B. Bean II called on At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty, who he had asked to write up suggestions made at last week’s meeting.
Flaherty suggested adding an amendment to include a bachelor’s in Civil Engineering, five years or more as a department head in water, wastewater or a public utility required, and 10 years or more experience as a municipal supervisor required, with public works experience preferred.
“The process is we would say no to this job description and move it onto the commissions. Hopefully they would change it, and we would accept it,” Bean said.
At-large Councilor James R. Adams said his concern is the bachelor’s requirement. “Somebody going to school for four years doesn’t make them an engineer,” he said, recommending an additional requirement of a licensed engineer in water or wastewater.
Ward 5 Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III said the council needed to define whether they’re looking for a Professional Engineer (PE) license or a Civil Engineer (CE), which deals with public works projects specifically.
Beltrandi also said if they make the educational requirement too stringent, the city may not attract candidates at the budgeted salary level.
Flaherty said the director doesn’t have to be the one licensed to operate the water. He said a page in the job description says they have to be familiar with the rules and regulations, but don’t have to be licensed.
Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski agreed that a water license isn’t needed for the DPW director, and said he agreed with what most of Flaherty had written.
Ward 4 Councilor Michael Burns suggested that the council vote down the job description and send it back to the commissioners who have the expertise. “This is the most important job in the city,” Burns said.
“Obviously, we’re going to have to deny this. We are running up against a deadline. I’m more than happy to move forward and give our thoughts to whatever commission I have to give it to. If the education piece is the only hangup, maybe we just leave it at that and send it to the commission. I think this writeup is good, I’m comfortable with it, I think we have to have some kind of certification along with a BA,” Bean said.
At-large Councilor Richard K. Sullivan Jr. asked if the commission had previously approved the job description as written, which Harris said they had at the end of August.
Bean said the job description hadn’t changed since 2016, when Billips was hired as director of the newly consolidated department. Billilps previously served Westfield since 2003 as director of the Wastewater Treatment Plant and later also as supervisor of the Water Resources Department. “I think we were lucky to have Dave Billips with all those degrees,” he said.
Flaherty asked what the requirements were for the position of City Engineer, and suggested in a few years that the Engineering Department might also come under the DPW.
Beltrandi said the council needs to determine what they want as an initial requirement of a new DPW director.
Burns pointed out that the current salary line is $117,000, which should be sufficient to attract a licensed engineer. Several other council members said that would not be the salary offered to a new hire.
Harris asked Beltrandi if he was satisfied with the job description as written. He responded that he agrees that the educational requirement is too light.
“I would like to see the education requirement more stringent than it is written right now. We’d like to get a fully qualified PE or CE to come in – we don’t know if we’re going to get that. I think it’s too light at this point,” Beltrandi said
Bean asked if the answer were as simple as adding that a PE or CE is preferred. “This edit would be sent to commissions, personnel director and law. They don’t have to say yes to this. If not they’ll send back the initial job description and we’ll have to say yes or no at that point,” he said.
Burns said the joint commission has to vote on an amended job description, and send it back to the City Council for a vote.
Flaherty said the suggested amendment would then read as follows: “Bachelor’s Degree in Civil, Environmental, or Chemical Engineering required. MA State License as P.E. or C.E. preferred. Additional education in Business Management or Public Administration preferred.
Five (5) years or more as a Department Head, Executive Director, or similar executive role in a Water or Wastewater public utility required. Ten (10) years’ experience as a supervisor or manager of municipal employees required. Experience with Public Works preferred.”
The original motion to accept the job description as written was voted down 11 to 0. Councilors Allie and Morganelli were not present at the special meeting.
A motion to recommend Flaherty’s amendments was approved 11 to 0.
“There is too much money associated with this position not to get it right,” Bean commented after the meeting.