Modesto News: City addressing auditor’s criticism of Public Works

Posted by Kevin Valine on April 10, 2014 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate text Kevin Valine
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: City of Modesto and nonprofits
    Bio: Kevin Valine has been a copy editor and reporter at The Bee since January 2006. He's worked at the Reno Gazette-Journal, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune and Paradise Post as a reporter and copy editor. He's a graduate of San Jose State.
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City Manager Greg Nyhoff said Modesto has been taking steps to address the findings in an auditor’s report that concluded the Public Works Department’s water and wastewater divisions are plagued by problems, including poor leadership, low morale and high turnover.

Officials with Moss-Adams LLP – the certified public accounting and business consulting firm the city has retained as its auditor – presented the report Tuesday at the City Council’s Audit Committee meeting. Moss-Adams spent September through February conducting the study.

One of the report’s major recommendations is that the city merge the water and wastewater divisions of its Utilities Planning and Projects Department and its Public Works Department into a new Utilities Department and hire a manager to run it. Moss-Adams recommends the manager be a strong leader with the ability to improve management practices, morale and culture.

Utilities Planning and Projects and Public Works are being run by acting managers since the recent retirements of the departments’ directors. And the deputy directors who ran water and wastewater are no longer with the city.

The new Utilities Department would be responsible for water and wastewater, planning and projects, and environmental and regulatory compliance. Nyhoff said the city has interviewed candidates for department director, and he expects to have someone running the new department in July.

Nyhoff also is reorganizing Public Works and will give it the responsibility for some functions that now reside with other city departments. He expects it will have a new Public Works director in July. The department’s functions will include streets, sidewalks and traffic signals.

Nyhoff said the city also has begun to address some of the morale and communication problems outlined in the Moss-Adams report.

He said he expects the City Council will get a progress report in 45 days on how the city is implementing the report’s recommendations. The Moss-Adams report contains 26 findings and recommendations. The report is online at www.modestogov.com/council/committees/audit.asp.

The auditor found a lot that needs to be fixed.

For instance, the 42-page report states there is a perception of ineffective leadership in Public Works administration, and the wastewater division is “characterized by a culture of retaliatory and punitive discipline, as well as a lack of interest in collaboration with other departments and external stakeholders.”

Recall papers served

In other city news, Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer was served with recall paperwork at the end of Tuesday’s council meeting. The paperwork notified her of the intent to recall her from office. Councilman Dave Cogdill recently was served with recall paperwork at another council meeting.

The voters trying to recall Kenoyer and Cogdill still need to complete other steps before they can start gathering signatures to put the recall elections on the ballot. They will need to collect the signatures of 20 percent of the voters in Kenoyer’s and Cogdill’s council districts within 120 days to get the recalls on the ballot, according to the secretary of state’s website.

John Walker, who lives in Cogdill’s district, is spearheading that recall effort; John Holsinger, who lives in Kenoyer’s district, is spearheading the other one.

The recall efforts are in response to the council updating parts of its general plan, which serves as a blueprint for how Modesto will grow and develop. The council’s decision to keep Salida and Wood Colony in the general plan has sparked outrage from residents of those communities and their supporters.

Cogdill and Kenoyer have said they have to make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the entire community, and they stand by their votes.

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