STARKVILLE — Starkville aldermen on Tuesday will consider a proposed restructuring of the engineering and streets department that city engineer Edward Kemp said will make it “more efficient and more responsive” to community needs.
Kemp presented the proposal to the aldermen at their Friday work session and said it would also help the department fill several vacant positions, some of which have been open for a few years.
“We’ve been holding off on filling these until we had the opportunity to present this and for you guys to have some input on it,” Kemp told the board of aldermen.
The proposed restructure would eliminate two foreman positions and a civil engineering intern position and create the positions of engineering technician and street department operations manager. These changes and the addition of a seasonal staff position will save the city $200 per year, according to Tuesday’s board meeting agenda.
After three long-serving foremen retired in the span of a few years, the city has been unable to find people with enough construction and management experience to fill those jobs under the department’s existing pay structure, Kemp said. One equipment operator was promoted to foreman, he said, but the other two jobs are still vacant, as are two equipment operator jobs and two maintenance worker jobs.
“Part of the reason we have chosen not to fill those (lower-level jobs) is because we really didn’t have a whole lot of front-line supervisors that could help manage them,” he said. “What we’ve been left with is a void of leadership in the top, and our crew sizes have gotten outsized because we haven’t had the supervisory experience there.”
The department needs a plan for when its senior leadership retires in order to avoid repeating history, Kemp said, and it should foster the professional growth of its maintenance workers as potential future department leaders.
The operations manager will supervise all of the engineering department’s maintenance and repair work citywide. Engineering and streets superintendent Larry Black’s job has evolved from strictly an oversight role to a field management position thanks to the two empty foreman jobs, and replacing them with the operations manager job will bring the superintendent position back to what it used to be, Kemp said.
Better leadership will also allow the department to send fewer people into the field to handle work orders, he said.
The engineering technician will be responsible for “routine and complex sub-professional engineering-related work” on projects ranging from road construction to storm drainage, according to the agenda. The position will replace the civil engineering intern position.
“Interns are great, but they’re very variable in scheduling and availability as well as the amount of competency and knowledge,” Kemp said.
The department has been using seasonal employees to temporarily fill the equipment operator and maintenance worker jobs, city human resources personnel officer Navarrete Ashford said, and he does not anticipate any problems finding permanent employees for both under the proposed new structure.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said she supports the proposed restructure because Kemp has put a great deal of thought into it.
“I’m willing to step back and let him do what he believes is correct for his department, and the proof will be in the effectiveness of his plan,” Spruill said after Friday’s work session.
The engineering department also aims to increase its efficiency by implementing a mobile work order system, already in place in the utilities department, starting Jan. 1. The current system does not track how long it takes to complete a work order, and people expect their requests to be fulfilled quickly and efficiently in the age of technology, Kemp said.
Employees will have an internal platform and mobile devices to keep track of the time and location of each work order, and it will notify customers as soon as an assignment is finished, Starkville Utilities general manager Terry Kemp told The Dispatch. The system will collect data and help identify trends in what the city needs from the department, he said.
“Through those trends, (we can) identify that there may be another problem or something we need to address from a bigger operational issue,” he said.
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