Stalled since June, DPW hire may be voted Thursday

Westfield Personnel Director Robert Bishop. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD — Ever since the June 14 meeting when three candidates were interviewed for the position of director of the Department of Public Works, Personnel Director Robert Bishop has been unable to get a quorum for a joint meeting of the Water and Public Works commissions in order to move forward.

The fourth and latest meeting to be scheduled and canceled for lack of a quorum was on Aug. 3. There was only one agenda item, “DPW Director candidate discussion/deliberation regarding three finalist candidates, John Hume, Robert Tober, Kelvin Ridgley; possible vote.”

A new meeting has been scheduled for Aug. 12 at 6:30 p.m. with the same agenda item. The meeting will be conducted remotely and broadcast on Channel 15 or Channel 12.

“The Board of Public Works will be scheduled to meet this coming Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the candidates and potentially vote on a path forward,” Bishop said, adding, “Between coming out of the quarantine/restrictions from COVID-19 and juggling schedules of the board members, achieving a quorum has been challenging. We are confident that this Thursday’s meeting will be different.”

The virtual interviews for the three candidates, two from Massachusetts and one from Louisiana, revealed wide ranges of experience. According to Bishop, all three candidates are still under consideration.

The City Council had sought to strengthen the requirements for the DPW director, and recommended a change in the job description to the joint commission in September.

The suggested amendment, which was approved 11 to 0 at a special meeting on Sept. 22, 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.”

While the goal was to strengthen the educational and license requirements for the position, some councilors expressed concern that if they made the educational requirement too stringent, the city may not attract candidates at the budgeted salary level.

Former Assistant Director Francis Cain has served as interim director for the department since David Billips retired from the position on Oct. 30, 2020.

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