In a move that contradicted the Oakdale City Council’s pledge to evaluate privatization proposals and bids before making any changes layoff notices were issued to two public works employees that were in Segment Two of the privatization plan discussed at the July 2 council meeting.
City Engineer Dave Myers and Public Works Administrative Analyst Anthony Smith were given 30-day notices on July 5 informing them that their positions were going to be eliminated by the city.
“We’ll basically be giving those responsibilities to others,” said Interim City Manager Stan Feathers, who confirmed the layoffs. “Frankly, this is a budget issue. We need to look at what will be trimmed and doesn’t need to be done.”
Mayor Pat Paul said she was aware of the negative image the layoffs presented after giving assurances to those in attendance at the July 2 council meeting that none of the moves would be made without making comparisons first.
The proposal, submitted by Feathers, former Interim City Manager and now-consultant Greg Wellman, and Operations Manager Dee Tatum outlined five “segments” for the city to consider for privatization of its public works services.
Segment Two dealt with elimination of Myers’ and Smith’s slots by Aug. 3, 2012. By law, the affected employees have to receive a 30-day notice that they are being laid off.
At the recent council meeting, Smith was one of at least a dozen that spoke up in opposition to the proposal.
“What are you going to lose?” Smith posed to the council on July 2. “Incredible institutional knowledge; you’ll lose dedication and a sense of community.”
“Frankly, these two (positions) shouldn’t have been lumped in with the others,” Paul said on Friday when contacted by phone. “These were ‘upper management’ jobs. An internal study showed we were top heavy.”
Operating Engineers Business Representative Michael Eggener disputed that Smith was a “management employee” and said that he was in the same bargaining unit as the rest of the line-level public works employees.
“On its face, this is contrary to what was said in open session,” Eggener noted of the layoffs and “Segment Two” of the proposal being implemented. “City leaders had an ‘all hands’ meeting with public works yesterday (July 5) and told us no layoff notices would come out until after the RFP (Request For Proposals) process.”
Feathers stated that Tatum had been examining the public works department for the last three to four months and had a good idea at what was being produced.
“We’ve been looking at workload and tasks and determining what could be outsourced,” said Feathers.
“How are employees going to get a fair shake if they’re getting layoff notices?” asked Eggener. “Are they doing away with these because there’s no need for the service or because it can be done by cheap labor?”
Feathers said that Tatum would oversee the public works department and, with Myers’ departure, engineering duties will be contracted out as needed.
“There’s not many capital projects right now where we need an engineer,” said Feathers.
“That’s not true, we have some critical projects coming up where Dave was the chief engineer,” Public Works Electrical Technician Chris Robinette countered, speaking with The Leader. “They basically told them (Myers and Smith) it was a personnel issue and their positions were eliminated.”
The next segment to be initiated, according to the proposal’s timeline, is on July 12, calling for the city to accept bids for all mowing of parks and pond basin maintenance for the parks division of public works.
According to the city’s website, bids for parks services have not been announced.