By: David Abdoo – August, 2009
The City of Lawrence has a public works problem. You know that. I know that and anyone who lives or visits Lawrence knows that. What we present to the world is the following: pockmarked streets, heaving sidewalks, ballparks with 18 inch grass, public rights of ways strewn with litter, and the overall cleanliness of the aforementioned areas. Well, you get the idea.
The problem is not all organic in nature, but we- as a city- certainly have done little to help preserve this necessary virtue to a well-run city. Over the decades, the Aldermanic and current governments have decimated the City of Lawrence Public Works Department (DPW) as statewide support has dwindled in light of Proposition 2 ½ , the City of Lawrence property tax collection has suffered due to increasing delinquency of property owners, the ever burgeoning stable of “non-profits” acting as cities within the city and add very little in the way of revenue, as well as the recent worldwide economy and its impact on our community’s overall ability to be employed.
As we taxpayers have paid more in taxes, commercial and residential, our services have declined. That story alone could provide this author with over 10,000 words of thesis material but let us focus on how we can and must do more with less.
Capital Planning. City leaders MUST implement a comprehensive Master Plan when implemented by the DPW provides management with a crystal clear road map as the expectations of the citizens and their priorities. For more details on my Master Plan goal for this city, please see my March 15, 2009 column “A Defining Master Plan for the City of Lawrence” in the Valley Patriot.
The most important capital need is the city yard from which all other operations emanate. The city yard must be immediately moved from its Spickett River flood zone location that was originally built as a horse barn in a long ago era.
It is neither centrally located nor efficient for 21st century public work operations. There are pollutants being dumped on the river’s edge, brick walls falling onto Bennington Street and more. This issue is a no-brainer- it has to be done.
Dynamic Management. The status quo will no longer work in a department that is half the size it was 10-15 years ago. We are -and must for the foreseeable future- do more with less! Directors, foremen and other leaders in the “yard” must sign onto this concept.
That is a fact of life. The DPW director must think big, document his plans for short and long term objectives and be organized and efficient.
The streets and sidewalks must be addressed in a more systemic manner. The most vivid example is why High Street gets paved and nobody can say why it was done before Newton Street, lower Salem Street, Hampshire Street (now partially restored) or others throughout the city.
There must be a systemic, equitable and managed process to rehabilitate the neediest and most traveled streets and sidewalks too.
Public work operations must be managed less in a political-triage-like manner and more by condition and use- heavily traveled or not.
Unions. The unions are a necessary organization of local governments to represent the collective body that is the human capital that labor daily on our streets, in our parks and throughout the city.
As our economy has suffered, these folks have been on the frontlines of budget cuts. In the future, we must plan our budgets better and more conservatively in their creation so that we can manage our DPW better and begin increasing the ranks.
In the meantime, the unions must continue to meet the city at the table for an ongoing discussion. Sometimes these discussions will not be easy but they must occur for the betterment of the city. Flexibility is a friend of improved workforce, ask Bill Belichick. I understand that our union workforce is not the Patriot’s but our future success as a city will require such a quality.
There must be cooperation between the political leaders, subservience of the management and a team approach by the unions with the city in mind to implement this plan.
There must be a clear vision by all, led by the executive with input by the city council, and the ability to maintain dialogue at all times by all parties. Lastly, there must be an understanding or consensus that millions of dollars of new revenue are not going to reach the city bank account anytime soon.
If we can accomplish the above thesis paragraph- we WILL have improved streets that are paved or rehabilitated, repaired or replaced sidewalks, world-class ballparks properly maintained for all sports, public rights of ways that are clean, and an overall cleanliness of the aforementioned areas.
Well, hopefully you get my idea!
I am Dave Abdoo, I am a candidate for Mayor, and the preceding IS the future of Lawrence public works in an Abdoo Administration.
David Abdoo is in his first term as a Lawrence City Councilor representing District “E” and is a canidate for mayor. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org