2014-01-09 / Front Page

Head of GIS told job may be in jeopardy

Decision not based on performance; position would be eliminated
By Margo Sullivan

Hours before Monday night’s Town Council meeting, Justin Jobin found out his job as the town’s geographical information system coordinator was on the line.

Town Administrator Kevin Paicos recommended eliminating Jobin’s position as part of the reshuffling of the Parks & Recreation Department.

Paicos said consultants had recommended putting the Public Works Department in charge of buildings and grounds maintenance, a change that would require hiring a new supervisor. As a result of the reorganization, Jobin’s job would be “displaced.”

Town Engineer Michael Gray said in an interview after the meeting he had discussed eliminating Jobin’s position with Paicos. Gray wrote a memo to the council to outline steps necessary for public works to take over additional work from parks and rec. In the memo, he indicated a grounds director would have to be hired and one position, the GIS coordinator, would be eliminated.

Gray said the memo dealt with much more than eliminating Jobin’s job and it would be a mistake to focus on that one thing. He also said eliminating the job would not mean the department would forgo its GIS capability.

In the memo, Gray said he agreed with consolidating maintenance under a single department. “Unfortunately,” he wrote, “the conclusions in this report were based in a vacuum without consideration of what the Public Works Department provides in services to this community.”

Gray acknowledged he spoke with the consultants.

“As I stated at the conclusion of the interview, if it is a management issue, we accept the challenge. If you determine in your analysis that it is a resource issue, the Public Works Department is as busy during the summer as the Parks & Recreation Department and there are no additional resources available.”

Paicos made the recommenda- tion as part of his “action plan” for the rec department, based on a study by consultants from the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts.

Paicos did not propose eliminating any other town employees.

Jobin sat in the audience during the presentation, two seats away from Gray, and jabbed at a notebook, writing out his points.

Jobin said he was not allowed to speak at the meeting.

“I was blindsided by this,” he told the Press afterwards. Jobin does not see how eliminating his position will help the Public Works Department increase services, he said, at least not without hiring “consultants and contractors and ultimately raising property taxes.”

Jobin is an environmental scientist who was hired in 2006.

“I have worked hard to establish our GIS program,” he said. “By keeping projects in house I have saved the town hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition to GIS, I have many other responsibilities.”

Jobin said he complies with mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Management. He also oversees the town’s ordinances on high groundwater and wastewater management.

“In addition to providing basic IT assistance to staff,” he added.

The councilors did not make any decisions about the termination or the rest of the action plan. But in deferring the discussion to a workshop later this month, Councilor Mary Meagher said she wanted Paicos to include more about the vision for the rec department.

“One thing was missing in your presentation,” she said – Paicos appeared to have overlooked the recommendations on strategic planning. “I would like to see that as part of the implementation.”

According to Meagher, the Town Council hired consultants Rob Hayley and Monica Lamboy to produce an “organizational assessment” of the Parks & Recreation Department, primarily for three reasons.

“One had to do with accountability,”

Meagher said, pointing to employee embezzlement and an issue with “lifeguards a few years ago.” The second reason was due to ongoing questions about Fort Getty, specifically “how and who should manage it.” Finally, the councilors were aware other communities, such as Barrington and South Kingstown, had been reassessing their rec programs to address a changing demographic.

“We don’t have as many kids,” Meagher said, referencing the median age in Jamestown today is 50. The change means the town needs to reconsider recreation offerings, she added.

Paicos said he met with staff to go over the recommendations and divided the list into categories to be adopted or rejected.

He rejected four of the proposals. He came out against the community swimming pool, citing the cost. He also dismissed electronic monitoring at the teen center. Given the “not huge amount of participation,” Paicos says the current practice of taking attendance manually should be sufficient.

He also tabled two other suggestions: performance measures to assess the department’s progress and a plan to deposit 10 percent of Fort Getty receipts into a special improvement fund for capital projects at the park.

The performance measurements are “extremely complex, expensive and generally conducted on a town-wide basis,” Paicos said. As for the capital fund, the council already sets aside deposit money occasionally, but regular deposits would likely result in a fund with a large unneeded balance, he said.

He broke down the other recommendations into three categories: already underway, pending additional work or pending consideration. For example, building a cultural arts center would be a decision that should wait, at least until the survey of community organizations was completed. Then the council would have to weigh the costs and discuss the situation with voters.

Also, the consultants said the senior center and rec department should be consolidated under a single organization. Paicos said the seniors should be consulted first, and then the town could consider options.

More than a year ago, the Finance

Department launched regular cash audits for the parks and rec, Paicos said.

“I’m not sure how that got lost in the analysis,” he said.

Meanwhile, residents will soon be able to sign up and pay for recreation programs online.

Recreation Director Bill Piva has agreed not to schedule any vacation or leaves during peak season. This was not an issue, Paicos said, adding that Piva has not been vacationing during the summer. Regarding questions about playground safety, Piva also has enrolled in a certification class, and other employees will also be certified.

Also, Paicos and Piva have discussed a new procedure for creating a recreation program. Currently, Piva meets with the two parties: residents who want a program and instructors interested in teaching. He then writes a memo, which is subjective, says Paicos, to assess whether the offering is “needed, desirable and consistent with community standards.” The practice has worked successfully but could involve a “more dynamic thought process.”

Paicos said he would prefer to see a “full-blown decision tree” that would also “button up” any legal issues with liability and insurance. He also said the rec department needs to address standards for instructors. Almost all are contractors, but some are neither town employees nor independent contractors.

Updating job descriptions would be a town-wide project, Paicos said. He suggested the council should budget $15,000 for the task in the upcoming fiscal year.

On a bicycle master plan, the town has proposals for a North Road bike path and an east-west trail, but the money to pay for the projects is pending.

Also, the decision to shift maintenance of buildings and grounds to public works was contingent on making a decision about where to locate a garage at Fort Getty, replacing old construction equipment, adopting the Fort Getty master plan, and hiring a superintendent.

In his memo, Gray mentioned several potential problems about shifting maintenance of Fort Getty over to public works.

The rec department managed the workload during off-hours with flexible schedules working with nonunion employees, he pointed out.

“Incorporating the staff into the Public Works Department will require a more rigid schedule of their time requiring callouts consistent with the union agreement with the town. Emergency callouts are usually after hours and weekends.”

Also, the long-term problems in maintaining Fort Getty are more than just a management problem, Gray said.

“The community has lacked investment and attention in the Parks & Recreation Department for many years and the comments received during the study reflect the public’s general dissatisfaction with the facilities. Maintenance can be improved with time and budget under either ... department, but if the facilities do not live up to the standards, how can we really satisfy the needs of the public? It should not be expected that reorganizing the departments will fix all of the problems.”

On the elimination of Jobin’s job, Paicos went on to say terminating the GIS coordinator is “difficult and uncomfortable to do,” because a “good employee would be displaced.”

But Paicos said the councilors need to make the town government operate more like a business.

“It’s something that needs to happen, which is difficult, which is hard, but is in the community’s best interest,” Paicos told the councilors.

Jobin said he has never met Paicos, who was hired as the town’s new administrator in November.

“I would welcome the chance to be able to discuss my current responsibilities with him,” Jobin said.

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