Tuesday, July 26, 2016

By Any Other Name

AFD Chief Tim Nelson and DPW Chief Guilford Mooring at Charter Commission last night

For DPW Superintendent Guilford Mooring and AFD Chief Tim Nelson a change in government would not necessarily be a game changer for how they run their operations. 

Mooring pointed out the DPW is not "sexy" to which Chief Nelson quickly responded "And we are?"

Although both quickly agreed AFD has better looking uniforms.

In response to a question from Charter Commissioner Nick Grabbe about how long the town has been talking about a new Fire Station and new DPW building Mooring responded, "We could work out of a Keebler elf oak tree for all the public cares" (as long as the roads and water supply still work).

Chief Nelson pointed out that is exactly why the town formed the DPW/Fire Station Advisory Committee: to help educated the general public of the need of these two new buildings and act as champions for both departments.

The Fire Chief went on to say:

"The challenge we face long term is the town wants us to do something and we have limited resources to do that. But at what cost? Injury rates go up, response time increases, sick leave escalates. We don’t like to say No. Town still wants all this done. We usually find a way, but it causes burnout. Government needs to figure out what it wants at what service level. We’re being asked to do a lot of things. Hard for us to keep up with day-to-day operations. We're keeping our head above water but with burnout. We need someone with the will to make a commitment (new station/increased staffing) and stick with it."
Mooring also had a comment that resonated with the Commissioners: it really doesn't matter what structure of government you have if the people who occupy the roles don't get along, then nothing positive will happen.

Both department heads stated they are "operational departments" where day to day duties and responsibilities can be very fluid, so  it's not always easy to take the time to provide needed communications to the general public.

And those communications should be a two way thing, otherwise frustration grows.

They also both agreed Town Meeting preparation takes up a lot of their time although fortunately they manage to get their annual budgets approved with little controversy, but those budgets are always a tad too lean.

Mooring closed his presentation to the Commission with the candid observation that he would not want to be in their shoes but they are "doing something important."

Chief Nelson agreed, urging them on: "Don't quit. Keep in mind you are doing the right thing and it will be very good for the town.  In the end it will all work out fine. "

Let's hope.


Anonymous said...

Not clear about what is being said here, is the point that the town manager--who is in charge of these departments--not helping his departments and failing to promote these needed buildings? Or is the select board not doing so? Don't fire and dpw report to town manager? These problems haven't come to town meeting, right?

Larry Kelley said...

I guess the point here -- from my perspective -- is there is not really one person who has ultimate authority like a strong Mayor.

Select Board can blame the Town Manager for not following through on a vision, and the Town Manager can blame Town Meeting, and Town Meeting can blame the voters (for keeping them in the picture).

Anonymous said...

But who did the DPW and Fire say was responsible? isn't that what the Charter Commission asking? Also, aren't these buidlings coming to the forefront because of the library and school buildings?

So towns with mayors have better DPW and Fire buildings?

A little intellectual rigor here please…..

Anonymous said...

If you are blaming our government for all problems, then praise our government for all the good things about Amherst too.

Larry Kelley said...

That's why I have Anons.

Larry Kelley said...

Feel free to watch it on Amherst Media whenever they get around to uploading it.

Or read the Gazette or MassLive. Oh wait, they were not there.

Anonymous said...

Seems to make the case for a combined DPW/Fire building. Both have similar needs: big trucks, locker rooms, etc.

Larry Kelley said...

Except both are very specialized.

Anonymous said...

As this post indicates, the Fire Department joins the existing list of public entities in town, including the libraries, the elementary schools, and even the Public Arts Committee, that have had to adopt political strategies, and public relations campaigns, in order to advance fully their interests INSIDE our town government.

Does this apparently essential extra increment of time and energy expended by government officials and appointed or elected volunteers, on "outreach" to the public (especially Town Meeting members), make sense in a properly functioning municipal government?

What Fire Chief Nelson provided in the quote was a detailed description of institutional rot, occurring quietly, without any alarms sounding, off the public's radar screen.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

No, they aren't.

Both are 24/7 operations with large/heavy vehicles that need to be kept ready to roll on a moment's notice -- vehicles needing to be resupplied, cleaned, etc. Both need to secure an inventory of supplies, maintain & secure portable equipment, much of which is expensive -- likely to both be broken or disappear.
Both need shower & changing facilities for both men & women, both need kitchen & sleeping facilities (DPW during snowstorms), etc.

In terms of "specialization", fire & ambulance is far greater than fire & DPW.
There actually a lot of overlap, both work with water, both have large vehicles as platforms for heavy equipment, and while a vacuum truck is functionally very different from a Quint, mechanically they are quite similar, needing the same equipment & tools to repair.

Dr. Ed said...

Yes Rich, Amherst is a company town, not unlike Detroit was. And when UMass implodes, Amherst will become even more like Detroit.

Anonymous said...

Institutional rot? Rich do we live in the same town? Have you driven around lately? Amherst is one of the most vibrant affluent towns in the valley.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:14 p.m.

You misread my remark. I am referring to the INSIDE of some of our institutions of government, like our understaffed Fire Department, our two decrepit elementary schools, and at least two libraries with insufficient space. And, yes, institutional rot is what I meant to say, that is, when employees are forced to cope with conditions that don't allow them to do their jobs adequately.

But, on this blog these days, I don't know why I bother.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

To Anon 3:14:

Apart from UMass, Amherst College, and Hampshire College, what are the vibrant elements of Amherst to which you refer?

Anonymous said...

Vibrant? Eric Carle museum, Atkins, Mission Cantina and the offices and businesses next door, all the nice neighborhoods, the businesses at College Street and Southeast Street, downtown Amherst &all the restaurants, businesses and medical offices along University Drive, Emily Dickinson Museum, Jones Library, all the LSSE programs, 2 pools, Mill River Recreation area…should I go on? Amherst's educational institutions are a jobs driver for the area.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 8:36am (and maybe also 3:14pm 7/26)

None of the 'vibrant' elements you cite address the municipal institutional rot Rich Morse points out. If you can't see it, or, worse, refuse to acknowledge it, then you'll likely be surprised as things continue to deteriorate if they are not addressed in fundamentally different ways. Well run university and college towns avoid getting into the kinds of positions Amherst is in.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Ed

You are absolutely correct that Amherst is a UMass company town. As such, the situation you describe above could also happen the other way around -- as the town's position gets worse, UMass gains even more control over what and how we do things. And for anyone who thinks the majority of UMass's influence over town affairs gets media coverage, you might want to check into that a bit more - hint - the metaphor you're looking for is an iceberg. Some people may not like Larry's blog, but he's doing investigative journalism better than anyone else in the area.

For one telling example, look to Larry's stories from Fall and Winter 2015-2016 about UMass pressing their newfound advantage over payments from the UMass hotel taxes and other payments after John Musante's untimely death. UMass had sent over a document that was on Musante's desk, but he had not signed it -- and it wasn't because he had been in Boston for a few weeks at the Harvard program. After Musante's passing, UMass revised the offer -- downward.