City council agreed last October to test an interim public works department, following a request from the parks council after parks manager Tony Sailer announced a retirement in December. The new department began operating on December 19 – the day after Sailer’s departure – with city engineer Paul Sandy at the helm as interim director.
Public works functioned as a sort of umbrella department, with Sandy overseeing transit, engineering, streets, and parks. The foreman and maintenance of the parks report directly to Sandy, as does the recreation coordinator of the parks department. Under the new structure, a post of director of parks is being abolished, but parks programs will continue as normal.
“Things are going extremely well,” city administrator Jennifer Bergman told council on Monday, July 19.
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While the interim department was initially set up to operate for a year, HR director Kris Schubert, who was not at Monday’s meeting, told the parks council last week that staff decided to examining the structure of the department now as the 2022 budget process began and as the city conducts a market rate study for city positions to determine if salary adjustments need to be made anywhere.
Ongoing updates to the city’s charter are also factored into the decision, Parks Council Chairman Kevin Yeager told the council at last week’s meeting. Yeager also sits on the city charter commission.
“Typically the charter trajectory is toward less specific job titles and toward a monolithic government that has the ability to add people or move people to complete tasks,” Yeager said. “So more focused on tasks and job descriptions than movements of the type focused on staff and position.” ”
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Yeager also came to Monday’s council meeting to advocate for the effectiveness of the interim public works department so far.
“I would say we were extremely happy,” he told council, echoing the feelings of the parks council. “There’s been a bit of a learning curve with some of the aspects of who’s doing what, why and when, but Mr. Sandy and the rest of the staff have been just exemplary in the transition, and I can see every day, with each meeting, she continues to smooth out more and more.
As a user of the city’s parks and summer T-ball and baseball programs, board member Gabe Johnson said he thinks this year’s lineup is the best since he raise his children.
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The city is working with Brainerd Public Schools Community Education and the YMCA on some of the park activities this summer.
“So we didn’t lose a step in the lineup and maybe we made it better,” Johnson said, also praising Sandy and her staff for their work.
With city council members accepting the move to a permanent public works department, the next step is for staff to review applicable job descriptions and make any necessary changes. Staff will report any changes or recommendations to the Board at a later date.
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Sandy thanked the board for making the move permanent.
“I appreciate the confidence in my department, the maintenance guys and our recreation staff to continue with this work structure,” he said. “I think it’s been good for all of us, and I think we have a lot of great places we go.”