Vernon Town Council debates inter-departmental move of employees
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Mar. 21, 2013
The intent was to experiment with a potentially cost-saving measure, but some Vernon Town Council members weren't sure if the move violated the town charter. At the Vernon Town Council meeting on March 19, item #2 under new business was a notification of the transfer of the responsibility for maintaining the Parks and Recreation's buildings and grounds to the Public Works Department.
An accompanying memorandum from Mayor George Apel stated that the move transfers two town employees – specifically titled “Park Maintainer I” and “Park Maintainer II” – to the supervision of the Public Works Department, and the elimination of the Maintenance Supervisor. It also states that the change will be conducted as a nine-month pilot program, and the trial period will be “ample enough to weigh potential cost savings,” as well as assessment of the efficiency of the move and allowing the Parks Department to concentrate on “enhancing programs and the pursuit of new ventures.”
Councilman Michael Winkler asked if the same theoretical efficiency could be reached by simply removing the Maintenance Supervisor position, and not transferring the supervision of the other two employees.
Town Administrator John Ward said there are other potential savings, through the usage of equipment and procedures. “This is a logical step towards the goal,” Ward said, adding that the move is along the same lines as the consolidation of the maintenance of school and town properties, which was enacted almost two years ago.
Ward added that the two employees would still be paid from the Parks and Recreation accounts, so technically they are keeping the same position.
Councilman Tom Didio said that when he first heard of the move, it occurred to him that it may be a violation of the town's charter, because it did not come to the council for approval. “Under Parks and Recreation, it says the Parks and Recreation Department shall consist of the Director of Parks and Recreation and such other employees as the town council may determine,” DiDio said. “So, it is, in effect, the town council that needs to change the status of these employees, even on a temporary basis. I believe there is a conflict here. I'm very concerned that this might be an illegal move.”
DiDio added that an adequate cost analysis has not been shown, and that the move also didn't make sense to him because of the elimination of the position in what is termed an experimental move. “If you decide to go back to the original plan, then we've lost a supervisor,” he said.
In response to the question of consistency with the charter, Ward said the mayor and administrator have the authority to adjust employees, and that the proposal was reviewed and okayed by the town attorney. That wasn't enough of a satisfactory answer for some council members.
“There should be an amendment to the charter,” said Gengras. “That would be in order.”
Councilman Rob Kopec said he felt that the trial is the best way to find out if the cost-savings works, rather than an “on paper” projection.
Councilwoman Virginia Gengras said she was concerned that Parks and Recreation Director Bruce Dinnie and Public Works Director Robert Kleinhans were not present at the meeting so that the council could ask them questions.
“Basically, I felt fully prepared to answer questions,” Ward said.
DiDio also wanted to know if the Public Works Director would be taking on too many responsibilities, and whether the Parks and Rec. Director would be taking a pay decrease, because he would have fewer duties.
“We don't have a savings in that respect,” he said. “I would also like to know what the explicit goals and objectives are of this experiment, and how these goals and objectives are to be measured,” DiDio said. “If we plan on transferring these people to Public Works, we should have a very clear objective of what we want to accomplish.”
A motion to delay the action until more information could be supplied was defeated, 5-5, with one abstention, and with Apel casting the tie-breaking vote.