Union officials representing workers in the two city public works departments say a news story stating the city was considering restructuring the public works department was misleading.
A story in the Oct. 2 issue of The Missourian reported that Mayor Herb Adams had announced during the Sept. 17 board of aldermen meeting that the city was considering creating one public works department by combining the street department and the water-sewer department.
The story also stated that Adams had discussed the idea with Bob Lefarth, Operating Engineers Local 148 shop steward, and Pat Lynch, Local 148 business representative.
Later in the same meeting, Adams said he would talk with Lefarth and Lynch again before finalizing plans for the restructuring.
The Missourian story said that Lefarth and Lynch supported the idea.
Lefarth said the mayor had made comments on the possibility of combining the street department with the water-sewer department during a Local 148 meeting that was called to resolve an overtime issue when both he and Lynch were present. But that did not mean that he (Lefarth) was for the idea.
Lefarth said some workers from both departments were upset by the news story.
“They thought I agreed with the plan,” he said. “The idea was never agreed to. I am not pushing to get this done.”
During his discussion with The Missourian, Lefarth telephoned Lynch, who was clearly upset that comments on restructuring the department had been made public.
“I don’t understand why this was even reported,” Lynch said. “We haven’t agreed to anything. We’ll look into it.”
In the same discussion with The Missourian, Lefarth also called Robert Brueggemann, water and sewer department supervisor. At first, Brueggemann said he did not want to talk to the press then he made one comment.
“The way it is now is fine,” Brueggemann said.
Lefarth also attempted to contact Roy Hinkle, street department supervisor, but was not successful.
Lefarth was present at the Sept. 17 board meeting when Adams announced that he and Selby were looking at the idea of creating one public works department, in which he and Lynch were mentioned, but Lefarth said he could not hear everything Adams said.
Both Adams and Selby said there are benefits to both the city and the workers by combining the two departments.
Selby said workers could be cross-trained so larger work crews could work on large projects such as water main breaks and street repairs, which could result in licenses for street workers and pay increases.
Adams said cost savings might be realized by having the two departments share equipment.
Lefarth said cross-training might not be cost-effective for the city.
“You have to have initial training to obtain a license, but you have to have continued training,” he said. “It would cost the city a lot to do that.”
Lefarth also said the two departments already share all equipment except for four specially equipped water department trucks. Street department workers occasionally borrow one of those, he said.
Lefarth said his biggest concern was the fact that The Missourian story left the impression that he was in favor of one department.
“It might not ever work to have one department,” he said.
Adams said he had not meant to imply that Lefarth and Lynch had endorsed a restructuring plan, but that it is something his administration is researching.
“The reason Lefarth and Lynch were mentioned in connection with the restructuring is because we have a good working relationship with the union and we would not make a change without seeking some input from them,” he said.
“Restructuring the department is something we are talking about but we’re not going to rush into anything,” he added. “We still have homework to do.”
Adams said there are other communities which have one public works department that could offer examples of how it works.
“We want to talk with them (other communities),” he said. “We’re a little ways off before we get back to Lefarth and Lynch.”
The idea will only move forward if the administration can come up with a good plan, the mayor stressed.
“We’re looking to make public works more efficient,” Adams said. “We still plan to approach them (Lefarth and Lynch) when we feel we have a good plan.”