News

Palo Alto to revamp Public Works Department

Move aims to boost efficiency, save $300,000 in the next fiscal year

Seeking to close a $3 million budget gap, Palo Alto officials are proposing to pare down the bureaucracy in city's Public Works Department, reducing the department's structure from six divisions to three.

The reorganization, which City Manager James Keene is including in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, would save the city about $300,000 in the fiscal year, which begins July 1. Under the new structure, the three divisions that would comprise the department would be Environmental Services, Public Services and Engineering Services.

Keene wrote in his proposed budget that Public Works officials undertook a review of the department's organizational structure because of "numerous vacancies in key positions" and the pending closure of the city's landfill in Byxbee Park. The reduction in the Public Works budget amounts to the largest expense reduction in the budget proposal, which Keene will present to the City Council tonight (Monday).

Under the new setup, engineering staff from existing divisions such as Facilities and Operations would combine with the Public Works Engineering division to form a new Engineering Services Division, which would coordinate the city's capital-improvement program. The new Public Services Division would manage city facilities, trees, streets and storm drains, as well as the city's vehicles. The Environmental Services Division would oversee the Regional Water Quality Control Plant and its waste services.

"By reducing six divisions to three divisions and combining workgroups, the department will gain efficiencies in streamlined workflow, program/project coordination and oversight," Keene wrote in the budget.

The city's proposed $146 million budget trims departmental expenditures by $1 million and aims to achieve the bulk of remaining savings through concessions from city workers, particularly those in public-safety unions. Keene noted that personnel costs total 64 percent of the General Fund budget, with 56 percent of these costs in the police and fire departments.

Workers from other labor groups, including the Service Employees International Union and the non-unionized group of managers and professionals, have already agreed to a variety of concessions, including a two-tired pension system (with less generous terms for newly hired workers), contributions to medical costs and elimination of bonus payments for the management group. Keene stressed in his budget document the importance of all bargaining groups sharing in "concessions and contributions to the City's immediate and long term fiscal demand."

"The budget includes a number of departmental reductions such as restructuring the Public Works Department for cost savings, but the budget I present to you is balanced by counting on achieving significant timely concessions from our public-safety unions, which have yet to make any structural cost savings contributions to the City's fiscal difficulties," Keene wrote. "If we are unsuccessful in this regard, by mid-year we will need to return to Council with staff and departmental reductions in the Police and Fire Departments."

Palo Alto remains at an impasse with its firefighters union and is preparing for binding-arbitration proceedings. The police union's contract with the city expires at the end of June. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the status of negotiations with the two unions in a closed-door session before tonight's council meeting.

Keene's proposed budget also includes $1 million in new funding for the Office of Emergency Services and $600,000 for improvements at the Development Center.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Questions for James Keene:

1) Why will this reorganization save the Department/City only $300K a year? (How many managers/SIEU types will the reorganization lay off?)

2) Why this reorganization so quickly coming after the sacking (whoops .. retirement) of the former Director?

3) Did the former Director have problems with the idea of a downsized operation?

4) How much did the former Director contributed to this new organizational scheme?


Like this comment
Posted by CHinCider
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2011 at 4:04 pm

These opportunities arose because several Public Works managers chose to retire at the same time as the prior Director......

The possibility of this reorganization did not exist during his tenure.

Time marches on; things change.


Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm

> These opportunities arose because several Public Works managers chose
> to retire at the same time as the prior Director......

Thanks for the Info.

> The possibility of this reorganization did not exist
> during his tenure.

Why not?

Using slightly dated salary/position data from 2009, there were about 235 employees in the public works operation. About 59 of them were "managers" (although a number of these folks were described as "management specialists", so maybe they were "temporary until made permanent"). The salaries for the managers ranged from $69K to $179K.

If the City Manager can only find $300K by downsizing from 6 divisions to 3--that doesn't sound like much of a reorganization. Hardly worth talking about. Reorganizations in the private sector usually mean that the "management" wants to downsize to save costs. With salaries like the City pays, it's hard to see that more than 2 people will drop off this org chart. Not worth talking about.

The City Council should say "No" .. and send Keene back to the drawing boards.


Like this comment
Posted by Nice Try But...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Too little, too late.


Like this comment
Posted by exodus
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 2, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Many employees retired before April 2011 to avoid having to contribute towards their health premiums during retirement.


Like this comment
Posted by mama
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Wondering? - The FY 2012 budget shows a headcount for the department of 206.


Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2011 at 6:19 am


> the FY 2012 budget

Thanks. BTW .. here's a link to the proposed budget document for 2012--

Web Link

The graphs at the front of the document are interesting, and a definite improvement over previous years.


The "span of control" P/W is still an issue. The 2009 salary/position showed a "span of control" of less than five. This is one of the issues that has not been addressed with the municipal operation. Why so many managers? What do they do? One would have hoped that our Auditor would have scheduled general performance Audits for every department, say, every 5-7 years, by now. Sadly, this has not happened, and we still don't know what we need so many managers, or what they do with their time.


Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 3, 2011 at 10:39 am

Congratulations to the Public Works and Parks Department.

For about the the 10th year running, yet again have they closed off the Mitchell Park dog park to reseed it in time for the end of the rainy season. Now they can yet again fail to water it and let the grass die.

Last year or the year before, they sent 7 managers to an evening meeting where they all agreed this was both wasteful and stupid.

Yet again they've done the same thing. How much has this cost? How much did the managers make in over-time for attending a long evening meeting?

Our brilliant government at work.


Like this comment
Posted by No overtime
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 3, 2011 at 11:18 am

Jo Ann....just an FYI...managers do NOT get paid overtime.


Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on May 3, 2011 at 12:12 pm

" Jo Ann....just an FYI...managers do NOT get paid overtime. "

That is why the have a PRINCELY SALARY...

This " reorganization " doesn't pass the smell test....


Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 4, 2011 at 10:29 am

Dear No Overtime,

I suggest you reread some of the recent reports on how Palo Alto city managers making more than $200,000 a year DO indeed get over-time. There have been lots of discussion about that over the last few months.


Like this comment
Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on May 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

CHinCider says several Public Works managers chose to retire at the same time as the prior Director. CHinCider previously said Assistant Director of Public Works announced Dornell's retirement before Glenn Roberts announced Roberts's retirement.

Paul Dornell was still the Assistant Director of Public Works at the April 5, 2011, Finance Committe meeting. (Solid Waste manager Rene Eyerly was still working for the City of Palo Alto at that time as well. She didn't retire, she just left for a different job in San Jose.)

Just what are the names of the Public Works managers who retired at the same time as Glenn Roberts? Last year's summary employee information are now public record, so it will be easy to confirm the names of the Public Works managers CHinCider claims have retired.

How could CHinCider have been so wrong last year about Paul Dornell retiring?

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Posted by CHinCider, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on May 2, 2011 at 4:04 pm

These opportunities arose because several Public Works managers chose to retire at the same time as the prior Director......

The possibility of this reorganization did not exist during his tenure.

Time marches on; things change.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Posted by CHinCider, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Oct 29, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Dornell is smarter than the rest of them - he had already announced his retirement even before Roberts "announced" his.


Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on May 11, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Did't Dornell have a role in Emily Harrison's investigation of moonlighting in the Utilities Department?

I seem to remember that from past posts.

If so, does it have a bearing here?

CHinCider and Deep Throat, could you please comment.


Like this comment
Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community, on Feb 25, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Dornell and Ghaffari were managers in the public works dept before Emily Harrison and Carl Yeats appointed them to positions in Utilities during the last corruption investigation in the Utilities Dept.

Well, Yeats and Harrison are both gone now, but one has to ask how insiders with no Utilities experience get management appointments in Palo Alto.

Where was the Human Resources Dept hiring oversight? Or was the Human Resources Dept part of the corruption?

---------------------------------------------------------------------

After Utility Department Director Ulrich and the Assistant Director for Engineering and Operations left, the assistant director position was split into separate divisions for engineering and operations, and Dornell, who was subordinate to the Deputy Director of Operations in Public Works became the Assistant Director of Operations in Utilities.

After the Deputy Director of Operations in Public Works retired, Glenn Roberts convinced City Manager Frank Benest and the City Council to upgrade the position in Public Works from Deputy Director to Assistant Director, which enable Dornell to come back to the Public Works Department at the sme pay he had in the Utilities Department.

Now that Dornell has apparently retired, but is still working for the City in his previous position, the current proposed budget keeps the position in Public Works as an Assistant Director, although a significant part of the Operations Division employees will disappear shortly after the landfill closes this year.

The retirement of Dornell and the decrease in employee count would seem to be good reasons to return the head of Public Works Operations to the lower paid position of Deputy Director, instead of Assistant Diretor.


Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2011 at 9:40 pm

@Deep Throat,

Thanks for finding my old post and giving the update.

Looks like nothing has changed even though we now have a new City Manager.




Like this comment
Posted by CHinCider
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2011 at 10:10 am

To "Deep Throat" -

Well, if you don't understand the difference between "announced" in the first case and "retired" in the second, then there is really nothing that I can do to help you alleviate your apparent confusion.
I would think than anyone with even a modicum of comprehension would understand that an announcement comes before the act of retirement.
You are beginning to sound more like Linda Lovelace than John Dean.

The point of my original comment was that there were several Public Works managers who retired at around the same time as Roberts, including Dornell, Facilities Division Manager Karen Smith, and others. That, combined with Sartor moving up in the interim to take the spot vacated by Roberts and Phil Bobel moving up to take Sartor's spot has created a four position musical chairs opportunity that obviously did not exist while Roberts was there.

It is interesting to note that the proposed reorganization and resultant budget reductions presume that the current positional actions will continue. So much for openness and transparency in filling positions, hiring staff, and making managerial and Department Head level appointments.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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