In the weeks leading up to the Dec. 6 runoff election, city-parish officials were focused on campaigning for the proposed reorganization of the Department of Public Works. Now that voters have approved the measure, the real work starts on dismantling the unwieldy bureaucracy and its 800 employees and reorganizing it into six independent departments.
Though it won’t be as difficult as it sounds, there are many details that haven’t yet been worked out and it will be spring before many of the changes are in place.
“In the very short run everything will stay the same,” says Christel Slaughter of SSA Consultants, which is working with the city-parish on the reorganization. “But over the next 60 days things are going to have to start changing rather quickly.”
The reorganization plan, which required an amendment to the city-parish Plan of Government, becomes official Jan. 15. At that point, six unclassified department head positions will have to be created, which requires approval from the Metro Council and the Personnel Board. Salaries will have to be set for those positions. However, since no additional funds for the reorganization were allocated from the city-parish budget, money for the salaries will have to come from unfilled positions within the existing DPW budget.
Then comes the challenge of finding qualified candidates to oversee each of the six new departments—environmental services, transportation and drainage, maintenance, buildings and ground, fleet management, and development. Given that Mayor Kip Holden is in his last term and the positions are unclassified—meaning, basically, there is no job security for those who fill them—finding interested and qualified candidates won’t necessarily be easy.
“Getting the right leadership in place is very important,” Slaughter says. “We may need to fill some of the positions with interim department heads for the time being.”
Additionally, the existing DPW budget has to be carved up into six pieces, and—more challenging—certain processes and responsibilities that have fallen under the DPW umbrella will have to be reshuffled and reassigned to the new departments.
At the big-picture level this makes sense. Garbage collection will fall under the new department of environmental services, for instance. But there are still myriad details to work out, such as how other parish government departments will prioritize work from among the six new departments.
“The person over workforce development will now have six bosses over her, instead of one,” says Slaughter. “They will have to prioritize. It’s like anything else—it’s going to have to involve some processing.”
Finally, the mechanics of the reorganization process will involve reshuffling some offices, which are currently spread throughout various sites, and redoing signage on buildings and hundreds of vehicles.
“Those are the things that you don’t think about and aren’t necessarily hard to do,” says Slaughter. “But it’s a lot of things to be done.” —Stephanie Riegel