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Serious Steps - City Services Privatization?
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(Editor’s note: Due to early holiday deadlines, this article went to press prior to the July 2 Oakdale City Council meeting. Log on to for updates to this story and a report on the council meeting.)

In a staff report released on Thursday, June 28, for the July 2 Oakdale City Council meeting, Interim City Manager Greg Wellman proposed that the city consider privatization of all its public works services with the exception of two city garage mechanics.

The proposal, which Wellman, Incoming Interim City Manager Stan Feathers, and Operations Manager Dee Tatum characterize as “the singular most distressing item the council may consider in the future,” outlines five “segments” for contracting out services and reorganizing the city’s public works department.

Wellman writes, “…this item will affect the lives and employment of virtually every employee within the Divisions of the Public Works Department.”

If the council approved the privatization proposal on Monday, each segment of the public works divisions would be placed out to bid by the city to local vendors who would perform the services. Wellman offered that the affected city employees could act as independent contractors to bid themselves and also suggested that the city’s bid may request that the successful contractor incorporate the former employees into their workforce for at least six months to one year.

Segment One of the proposal targets the parks division and its eight unionized employees. The privatization contract would include all city property lawn mowing and pond basin maintenance.

Segment Two would eliminate the job of the Deputy Director of Public Works, held by David Myers, and the Administrative Analyst position. Public Works Director Joe Leach has already received notice from the city that he will be terminated from the position July 20, 2012.

Segments Three and Four call for the elimination of the entire “Streets and Utilities Divisions” and electrical systems, which includes 13 employees assigned to streets and utility maintenance and two electrical technicians. Services for this area would also be contracted out and put to a Request for Proposal (RFP).

The fifth segment affects the waste water treatment plant and all of its operations. The five assigned employees would be laid off and services for the plant contracted out to a private bidder.

With virtually the elimination of the public works department, the public works and community development areas would be combined and overseen by a single proposed manager with another city-recruited position capable of monitoring the host of contracts.

When contacted on Thursday, Operating Engineers Business Representative Mike Eggener, who represents the city’s miscellaneous workers’ union, stated he had not been made aware of the proposal.

“I find it disheartening that the city manager would release this without advising the employees and the union first,” said Eggener by telephone on Thursday. “I am going to need to review the packet and meet with the affected groups.”

Wellman, who was out of town on Friday, stated in an email that he wanted to stress that the city was in the midst of labor talks with its bargaining units and the law is clear they must consult with them, at the very least, on the effects of reducing staff for those positions impacted by workload.

Wellman also stated the council has various options with the proposal, as they may choose all or none of the segments presented. The council also has the ability to modify the sequence of choices.

Privatization of services has been discussed by city officials for a few months as the city looks to cost-cutting methods for its budget crisis.