By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE - City leaders said the public works and public utilities departments are better off as two.
In a recent discussion about combining the two departments, City Council members believed a merger would not work and instead recommended beginning a search for a new public works director. The public works department has operated without a permanent leader since Warren Pike was fired in February.
The discussion was requested in the wake of Mr. Pike's firing for giving his 16-year-old son and a friend the code to access a lockbox that enabled them to gain entry to the public works department's storage yard, although they were not authorized to do so. The juveniles were found to have stolen thousands of dollars in city-owned equipment.
Councilman Don Burnette, who asked city staff to consider the feasibility of combining the two departments, said after doing his research he felt combining the two departments would result in a functional efficiency.
He said an unsuccessful combination of the departments could also be a challenge for whoever succeeds Ken Parker as city manager next year.
"If this is not working out from a functional standpoint, a new city manager would have the challenge of bringing it back to the way it was," Mr. Burnette said.
Mr. Parker said in a memo to council members that the departments could be merged from an administrative or functional standpoint, with a savings of $100,000 from having one less department head on staff.
But the size of a department uniting public works and public utilities, as well as differences in administrative skills required, were cited by the city manager as disadvantages.
"If created, it would be the largest department, both budget-wise and employee-wise, in the city," he said. "It could be very easy for the department's administrative component to become detached from the operational sections."
"Although the total number of staff allocated to administration may be adequate, the types of administrative skills needed may be very different for a large combined department," Mr. Parker said.
Council members felt the needs of the two departments were too different for a combination to work.
"Having worked a little bit in both sectors, I see them (public works and public utilities employees) as different people," Mayor Allen Green said. "They have different mindsets. They have different roles."
But most councilmen, including Bob Ford, felt adding engineering support to the public works department is a good idea.
"There is much to be said for having a larger work crew," he said. "... You have the flexibility to bring multiple people on a project in an emergency."
Roger Smith, acting public works director, said an engineer "could and should be able to handle" the work of both departments. He said he has already recruited an engineer who he felt could take on the responsibilities of both departments.
Meanwhile, Mr. Parker said he would draft a job application for a new public works director.