City Shakes Up Public Works Department

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

April 23, 2020

Morro Bay’s Public Works Department is in the midst of a shake-up, as the former department director has been given a new job and his duties split up amongst City Hall brass.

The City Council approved a change that saw Public Works Director Rob Livick step down from the department head job and be rehired as City Engineer, a position that hasn’t been filled for about a decade.

The change is a huge drop in salary for Livick, who has been Public Works Director since 2010 (originally he was director of Public Services), as the top salary level for director is $157,335 and Livick’s City Engineer salary will start out at the top level of $123,748.

The difference comes to some $33,500 a year, saving the General Fund approximately $8,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year (ending June 30). Livick didn’t return an email seeking comment.

Livick’s new position ensures a benefits package equal to other mid-level managers in the City and he will be an at-will employee, meaning he can quit or be fired at any time; except that he is guaranteed at least 6 months of employment from March 21, the start date of his new job.

He’s getting a one-time cash-out of vacation, floating holiday and administrative leave, equal to half of what he’s got on the books.

“In the next six months,” reads a staff report from the City Manager Scott Collins, “the City will evaluate the structure and needs of the Public Works Department and determine the optimal structure to best meet the needs of the City.”

Collins named Finance Director, Jennifer Callaway, as the Acting Public Works Director, giving her a 5% increase (about $2,000) over her current salary for the added work.

“The Acting Public Works Director,” he said, “will oversee duties such as engineering, consolidated maintenance, environmental services and general fund capital projects components of the department.”

Asked if the finance director was qualified? Collins said, “Jen [Callaway] has experience in helping evaluate departments organizational structure. By retaining Rob [Livick] as the City Engineer, we have the coverage of the technical side of the department and Jen can focus on developing the organizational change recommendations that will help me determine how our PW department can perform optimally. I will oversee utilities [with Joe Mueller leading the team] to help shoulder some of the Public Works management duties with Jen.”

The search for a new director will start soon. “We anticipate the process taking about 4-6 months from where we are today to hiring a new director,” Collins said. “Part of the organizational review is determining what qualifications we are seeking in a new director. Traditionally, the director position is also the City Engineer. But that might not be what our need is at this time.”

This all had its origins in a Council special study session on Feb. 25 when the Council reviewed a 10-year financial forecast of the City’s overall, long-term financial position.

As part of this, the City is to undergo a complete study of organizational concerns, structures and opportunities for changes. Given the status of the City’s tight finances, made worse by the coronavirus shutdowns, “every department would be analyzed and asked to look at the services they provide and ask, ‘Is this a service that needs to continue?’ and if yes, does the department need to continue to provide the service in the way that we are now?” reads Collins’ staff report.

Collins summarized the current and future challenges and opportunities facing Public Works:
• Completing utility projects, such as the Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) and OneWater CIP (Capital Improvement Projects);
• Assessment of the backlog of capital project needs across the City (parks, streets, facilities,
• Increasing number of mandates from Feds and State;
• Competition for grant funding; and,
• Succession planning.

Collins said he, “believes this approach provides stability for the organization [retaining the skill sets, knowledge and expertise of Mr. Livick] and opportunities for current staff, all while providing the City a cost-effective path to transition and set the PW Department up to address the current and future challenges.”

He sees this as the best of both worlds. “The PW Department will maintain stability by retaining Mr. Livick in the City Engineer position to ensure that new projects get off the ground and that current projects have the requisite engineering oversight and review to be completed satisfactorily [WRF as a prime example],” Collins said.

Callaway will be evaluating the department to “determine its needs and develop a plan to address those needs prior to recruiting for a permanent Public Works Director.

“Part of the review will determine the proper role for the future Public Works Director, to include determining if the Public Works Director should also be the lead Civil Engineer for the City, as is the current practice.”

He expects it to take up to 6 months to draw up recommended changes and rewrite the director’s job description.

Then, “The City will conduct a recruitment process, which would be available for both internal and external candidates, after this review is completed and the optimal structure is in place, helping to set up the new permanent Director and the Department for lasting success,” said Collins.

It wouldn’t be the first time the Public Works Department has been shaken up in the past several years, as the first change was to move maintenance of parks and City owned facilities from Recreation and Parks to Public Works under a reconfigured, single, “Maintenance Division” and changing the name to “Public Services.”

Another change came when the Planning and Building Department (now Community development) was organizationally separated out from Public Works, though they continue to share an office building.

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