Faced with one of the more complicated and costly projects of its history – construction of Bayside sewers – and a deteriorating infrastructure with the threat of additional pipe collapses like that which closed Sandy Lane for months, the Warwick Sewer Authority is still without an executive director, but a plan is in the making to restructure the agency.
On Thursday, Earl Bond, a 21-year WSA employee and maintenance work coordinator, was named interim director. And on Monday, Chief of Staff William DePasquale lent definition to Mayor Joseph Solomon’s plans going forward.
Asked about the vacant position three weeks ago, Mayor Solomon said because of the technical engineering issues and financial responsibilities of the job, he was leaning toward two positions.
“I’ve been looking at a two-fold type of approach here…I think we need someone with the engineering and scientific knowledge aspect of waste disposal, things of that nature. But I think that the numbers and the dollars and the expenditures, and the financial aspects of things…I think I need like a CFO type,” he said.
He reiterated that opinion in an interview Wednesday.
“This is overwhelming for one person to do,” he said.
As of last week, Solomon had not communicated his plan to authority chairman Gary Jarvis. Jarvis, who as recently as last Tuesday’s meeting thanked the staff for managing operations in the absence of a director yet urged them to be more diligent in following procedures, said Solomon has not spoken with him about a director.
Solomon said he realizes Jarvis has a full-time job at the Rhode Island Transit Authority and may not be available for calls. He said he has talked with other members of the authority who are not actively employed.
“They have a lot more flexibility,” he said.
In an email yesterday, DePasquale outlined the direction being taken by the administration.
“The goal is to establish a management structure that protects the ratepayers and also allows for a focused concentration on plant and collection system operations. This will work in concert with a greater emphasis on proactive financial management of the WSA, including, but not limited to, corrective action and fiscal evaluation of plant operations, collections, maintenance, renewal replacement, infrastructure expansion and an analysis of current and potential impacts on rate payers,” he writes.
DePasquale said the administration is in the process of revising the scope of duties and responsibilities of the chief operating officer/executive and will be reposting the position. He said the city posted for a new position, the WSA chief financial officer.
“The CFO will be responsible for overseeing all financial aspects of the department to assist in providing the city timely audit information and will also act to provide anticipatory financial analysis of project proposals against the entire scope of available resources and encumbrances of the WSA,” DePasquale wrote
He said the CFO would be responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations, to ensure continued compliance with all federal and state operational and environmental regulations, and to work cooperatively with the mayor, WSA Board, the City Council and other municipal entities.
Informed of the mayor’s proposal, Jarvis asked last week how the authority would fund the additional position. Funding of another position is seemingly not a concern to the mayor given the current budget.
“It’s not how many employees, it’s having qualified employees,” he said.
Since the retirement of Janine Burke-Wells in May – also leaving was longtime assistant to the director Lynne Owens – three personnel have run the authority on a day-to-day basis: Anthony Poole, administrative service manager; Scott Goodinson, superintendent; and Bond.
Although the authority unanimously backed ongoing efforts to design a low-pressure system using directional drilling so as to avoid disturbing Native American artifacts for the Bayside project, Solomon remains unconvinced it’s the best plan.
“I don’t know if we have the funding for Bayside,” he said.
The project has been projected to cost $27 million. The City Council granted the authority to borrow $33 million in revenue bonds to be used for Gov. Francis III, which is in the final stages of completion, O’Donnell Hill that is being designed and Bayside.