Director of facilities job description voted down
WESTFIELD – During a lengthy discussion at the remote meeting on April 16, the City Council voted down the expanded director of facilities job description and tabled the consolidation of the city and schools maintenance departments under the new position.
The decision was not an outright rejection of the concept of consolidation and there were many questions raised regarding division of the school and city maintenance budgets, and whether the director would have authority over the schools’ maintenance staff, among other issues.
Taking on the job description first, Legislative & Ordinance chair William Onyski said the Council needed to accept or reject the job description at Thursday’s meeting. “We can’t table it. If we don’t vote on it, it gets accepted by default,” he said.
Finance Committee Chair and School Liaison Ralph J. Figy, Jr. said the job description had been developed in a coordinated effort between the school and city personnel directors.
At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty questioned whether Westfield Gas & Electric and Department of Pubilc Works’ water and sewer buildings and properties would fall under the purview of the director of facilities.
Current Facilities Director Bryan Forrette, who participated in the online meeting, said he does not handle any G&E property or buildings. He said he does help DPW water and sewer departments orchestrate work, which comes out of its budget. “I do facilitate work in all DPW buildings and pay for a portion of that,” he said.
Flaherty also questioned the money side of things, in particular the supervision of the maintenance and trades people in the schools. “When they do move, I assume all the money in the schools would move over, which is close to $5 million,” he said
“We’re currently going through all the budgets to find out where all the money goes; we haven’t figured that out yet,” said Auditor Christopher Caputo.
City Council President Brent B. Bean II also questioned the management of staff in the new configuration, saying he was unclear about who would report to whom.
“My main concern is the cost of it all, and the management of it all. Can somebody. speak to the structure itself. I’m not convinced yet that this is going to solve the management side of things,” he said. In previous discussions, Bean has said that property and ballfield maintenance in particular has fallen off in recent years.
“To clarify, the school custodians will remain in the School Department; the principals are direct supervisors,” said Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski, who also joined in on the call. He said the employees would work for the city, not just the school as they do now, which would bring savings in terms of hiring outside contractors. “In terms of the budget, custodial salaries remain with the school department. In the big picture, the director of facilities would be overseeing all of the buildings,” Czaporowski said.
Several other councilors expressed the desire to see an organizational chart and a financial breakdown before moving forward.
“I think it will work. Even if we don’t save a dollar, somebody needs to be in charge of every building in the city. Bryan fortunately knows that position. He’s going to save us money just because he knows. We’re going to be fixing things before the roof starts to leak,” said At-large Councilor James R. Adams.
At-large Councilor Kristen Mello asked where the tradespeople are now.
“Right now, they work for the school department, and while there is plenty of work for them, this just opens them up to be used more frequently not just by the schools but by the city. Right now, they work for the schools. The priority becomes equal if this changes. I was enthusiastic because of the spirit of cooperation,” said Czaporowski.
Flaherty said, speaking about the job description, that there were errors, such as the lines describing oversight of all city buildings, when G&E and DPW facilities are not included.
“The reason why we’re having this discussion now, is that it’s a budget period. I’m not convinced it’s something we should do tonight. I like the idea of all the grounds in the city being under one person. I’m just not convinced we spent enough time working it out,” Bean said, which met with agreement from several councilors.
“This year’s budget 2021, is going to be very tight. You do a budget every year. If you reject this tonight, you can work on it for 2022. If you did want to err on the side of caution and wait, I’m totally fine with it,” said Caputo.
Before voting, Figy said the Council could vote down the job description, and create the department, “or this thing’s dead. Creating the Department doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Four mayors have worked on this, four mayors have endorsed it,” he said.
Flaherty said he agreed that the Council should move it and deny the job description, then send in a list of changes. “As part of due diligence, we should get an economic impact statement on this,” he said.
In the end, the job description was voted down 9 to 3, and the consolidation plan was tabled by a vote of 7 to 6.
“I appreciated the opportunity to be able to speak in support of combining the city and school maintenance departments. As I mentioned in the meeting, the benefits of this plan included a potential cost savings in regard to personnel and in-house work, the streamlining of maintenance operations, and the development of a citywide capital plan,” said Czaporowski after the meeting.
“However, it was clear to me that several councilors had a variety of questions and reservations. Looking ahead, all city departments are currently developing their budgets for the next fiscal year and we are all operating with restrictions as a result of the pandemic. While I am open minded to future discussions, I now believe that it might be better to revisit this proposal at a later date,” he added.