Council puts brakes on overhaul plan

A major transformation of the Fort Dodge Public Works Department was put on hold Monday evening by City Council members who again told administrators to spend more time talking to employees about the plan.

”There has to be real talk between the union and the city,” Councilman Mark Taylor said.

Moments earlier, Steve Doyle, a public works employee, told the elected officials that workers need more information.

”We don’t know where this is going,” he said. ”To shove it down everyone’s throat is ridiculous.”

While Councilman Dave Flattery voted with all of his colleagues to table any action on the reorganization plan, he said its should be pursued in the future as a way to gain operating efficiencies in the department.

He added that the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department should be included in the overhaul since its workers are members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61 along with the public works employees.

The reorganization, proposed by City Manager David Fierke and Public Works Director Greg Koch, would reduce the department from its current six divisions to three.

Now its 46 workers are in these divisions: sanitation, streets, traffic safety, vehicle maintenance, utilities distribution and water meters.

The proposal would create these divisions: water utility, streets and sanitation and vehicle maintenance.

The plan is fueled by two factors. One is a state requirement that will force the city to have a person with a high level of certification in charge of the water distribution system. John Horrell, the superintendent of the John W. Pray Water Facility, has such a license. But because he works in the water plant, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources wants the city to employ a second person with such a license to be in the field every day supervising the maintenance of the water lines. Under the proposal, that person would be in charge of the new water utility division.

The other factor which prompted the proposal is the future delivery of new refuse trucks that use mechanical arms to lift and empty containers of trash and recycling materials. The introduction of those trucks will mean fewer people will be needed for sanitation work.

The plan was outlined for council members during a June 24 workshop. At that time, they directed Fierke and Koch to spend more time explaining it to the workers.

Jim Vollmer, the city’s human resources director, said there was a daylong meeting with some workers on June 4 to plan the reorganization. He added that administrators met with employees again on June 28.

”We have been visiting with employees,” he said. ”We have been answering questions that they had.”

The council agenda for Monday called for taking several action to implement the reorganization. The first step was eliminating the positions of assistant street superintendent, assistant sanitation superintendent and assistant utilities distribution superintendent. Those positions would be replaced with those of public works senior maintenance lead worker, public works maintenance lead worker and utility division lead worker.

Rick Eilander, a bargaining representative for AFSCME, said such changes are subject to contract negotiations. he added that they were never proposed during recently concluded talks between the city and the union.

”It’s a contract violation and also against Iowa law,” he said.

The council asked for a legal opinion on creating the new positions. It then tabled any action of the proposal.

However, the council did buy the two new refuse trucks. The truck chassis, which will be made by Mack, will be purchased from Rees Truck & Trailer, of Fort Dodge, for $278,081.76.

The refuse collection bodies will be bought from Elliott Equipment Co., of Grimes, for $243,364.