This one ought to be real. (A Rising Stars Assignment)
|On Wednesday, in chambers the City Council of Seaside held a special closed hearing, and came into a public session to discuss Public Works/Planning Department. Their decision, after several votes, was to restructure the department and eliminate the Public Works Director position. While the move may save money, the impact on the city could be significant. Devon Smith, the current Public Works Director, is also the Planning Director, as well as the grant writer. City Councilor Leah Chapman stated that the position could be backfilled by current employees, with the planning and grant functions contracted with other agencies. Two councilors, Hamton and Bond, felt the decision should wait, to hear from Smith. Ultimately, a five to two vote led to the ouster of the Public Works Director.
"I was blindsided," Said Smith. "I wasn't aware the meeting was about my department, and knew nothing until I read it in the newspaper." Contracting the city planning services would require residents to travel at least 20 miles to a nearby city. Additionally, grant writing from an outside source may leave much to be desired. In 8 1/2 years, Smith has written over 3/4 million in grants, including a $450,000 dock replacement project.
The City Council was unhappy with the work being done, and recent personal and political issues may have influenced the decision. The majority of the members were led by Cletus James, who explained the move was a way to cut costs. There are small cities who do contract such services with varying success. However, the chances of saving money while keeping the same level of service is slim. "There is no way I see this working," Bond said. "The breadth of knowledge [Smith] had is undeniable, and he worked very hard for Seaside. There were times he would take vacation days to do city work without interruption." It is also very curious that the director was asked just two months ago to act as interim city manager.
The other item not considered is that once the position is eliminated, it cannot be brought back easily. There may already exist a case for retaliation, a local attorney stated, but should they try to fill the same job, it would almost be automatic. So, if the proposed restructuring fares poorly, the city could be in a world of hurt, even if Smith doesn't take legal action. If this was done because of personal issues with Smith, then Seaside has lost a talented individual who paid for his position with funds for the city, while also fulfilling public works and planning duties.
For now, interim manager Robert VanDeer has kept Smith on staff, stating he will restructure as he sees fit, and that leaves Seaside with an opportunity that should be taken. You have an employee who has put the city above himself, and petty angst aside. Do the city a favor. Next time he does a great job for Seaside, try a pat on the back instead of a pink slip.