Just one day before Department of Public Works Superintendent Rob Zora will retire, the Board of Selectmen during a special meeting on Thursday, December 14, considered its options for finding an interim superintendent during this critical time – winter and budget season.
The first significant snowfall of the season was accumulating on the roads outside as Selectmen Chairman Jody Dickerson and Selectman Steve Gonsalves sat with Finance Director Judy Mooney listening to Town Administrator Paul Dawson list several options, some of which he had come up with just before the meeting.
But first, Dawson primed the board with a summary of what was imminent for the DPW.
“As the board knows … we are in the process of undertaking a review of the entire Department of Public Works operation to look at and consider whether, or if, any changes of the structure of the organization could take place,” Dawson said.
Those potential changes, he stated, could be incorporating some functions of other departments – facilities, or parks and recreation, for example – or it could mean dividing water and sewer and possibly the Highway Department.
“I would not want to presuppose what this might end up looking like,” said Dawson.
The DPW review process is a project that will be undertaken by an outside consultant and paid for by a grant provided through the Community Compact Program.
Results from the review, said Dawson, might even suggest eliminating the full-time DPW superintendent position. A review, however, will take about six months, Dawson told the selectmen, so it would be more prudent at this time to find a temporary interim superintendent than hire a permanent full-time DPW superintendent.
“Obviously we need to have an interim person,” Dawson stated, given the busy nature of this time of year, “[And] we have the added burden of the new NPDES permit.”
Dawson’s first option was to comb through internal personnel for someone with both administration and budgeting experience to temporarily transfer to the three- to six-month interim supervisory position. But that person would not be able to hold two positions with the Town, Dawson said.
The first person who came to his mind was Facilities Director Shawn Cormier, followed by Recreation Department Director Jody Dickerson, also a member of the board.
Dawson said another last-minute idea was to contact local people who have retired from the public works field and gauge their interest in the temporary position.
“I’ve racked my brain,” Dawson said. “I can’t come up with any [other ideas]. Those are the options as best as I could come up with.”
That is a lot to digest, said Dickerson, recommending that the board wait until its next Tuesday night meeting before choosing an option. Somebody in the meantime, however, would have to fill in as the acting authority to sign bills and payroll for the DPW.
The selectmen appointed Dawson as the fill-in.
But regarding a longer-term temporary person, said Dawson, “The board is going to have to make a decision quickly.”
Marion resident Jay Ryder asked the board why it simply hasn’t asked Zora to act as the interim superintendent.
“This is a critical period for the DPW and the plant,” Ryder said. “I would think, if he was willing to do that while you went through the hoops that you have to go through while you find his replacement … that would be the route to go to.”
Dawson and the selectmen paused before Dickerson said, “We’re looking at all the options on that and we’ll be sitting down with Mr. Zora shortly.”
Zora was in the room seated with the rest of those in attendance but did not contribute to the conversation.
Resident Sherman Briggs asked the board, “Why are we waiting for the last minute? This (Zora’s intent to retire) has been known for a while. Why are we jumping on it the day before his retirement?”
Dawson said the selectmen were aware of Zora’s chosen retirement date three weeks prior to that meeting. Dawson formally announced Zora’s retirement during the December 5 selectmen’s meeting.
“I just hope that we don’t make some wrong decisions in the very near future because of the short window that was created,” said Briggs.
The Marion Board of Selectmen held their regularly scheduled meeting on December 19 at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry