Prineville rebuilds its staff

‘In spite of the difficulties,’ city manager expects an improvement

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: July 29. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE — The city is rebuilding its public works department in the wake of administrative restructuring that eliminated the public works director’s position.

Jerry Brummer, a 15-year city employee, has been promoted from sewer and water superintendent to the newly created position of public works superintendent. The city also has appointed an “engineer in training” and is in the process of hiring a community development director, a job that formerly was called assistant city manager.

At the same time, officials have announced that a new test well at the Prineville Airport is producing plenty of high-quality water, after the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on three wells that did not produce drinkable water.

City Manager Robb Corbett said the goal of the changes was to make city government more efficient for Prineville residents as its population continues to expand, and the public works department takes on more infrastructure projects.

“I would hope that as people work with the city of Prineville, they would continually notice an improvement in the service that they receive, and a part of that requires us to continually examine what we’re doing and improve upon it,” Corbett said.

The administrative changes follow the departure of Public Works Director Jim Mole in January. Mole and former administrative assistant Samantha Waltjen are now suing the city, saying they were fired for raising concerns about potentially illegal financial practices. Corbett has maintained that Mole was laid off in an overall restructuring of city government.

The shake-up put then-Assistant City Manager Jerry Gillham in charge of the public works department. Gillham, whom some Prineville residents criticized for his role in dismissing Mole, resigned in February. The soon-to-be-hired community development director will oversee public works and report to Corbett.

“Just like everything I’ve learned in my life is once you get through painful experiences, you’re always a better human being, and I trust that we’ll be a better organization in spite of the difficulties of the last six months,” Corbett said.

Pat Hepperle, a city administrative assistant, said updated salary information for the new hires is not available. Brummer made about $50,000 a year as sewer and water superintendent, she said.

Brummer, 58, said his new role will focus more on the day-to-day operations of the public works department. The department has 12 employees, including Brummer.

“I’m more just in charge of the public works department itself,” he said. “The city is in the process of hiring a community development person, and as far as contracts and a lot of the environmental issues and stuff, that (person) will handle that part, so my duties are going to be more just to make sure we review plans and make sure the infrastructure gets put in properly and maintain it as we go.”

Brummer, who used to be in charge of the city’s sewer and water system, said tests on a new well the city has dug at the airport show it should be a success. The well is temporarily hooked up to the municipal system for the rest of the peak irrigation season, after which the contractor will install a permanent pump house. It will be the city’s biggest well, pumping about 1,000 gallons per minute.

“We have a test pump in just to have it in case of an emergency,” he said. “It’s really good quality water, so that’s a bonus.”

He added that important upcoming public works projects include a bridge on Elm Street in Prineville and a new route through the city on Second Street.

Corbett said Brummer has been serving as interim public works director for about six months.

“Jerry is a great guy,” he said. “I just feel like we’re very fortunate that he was interested in taking the position.”

Corbett said the newly hired “engineer in training,” Eric Klann, will be the city’s first full-time engineer. In the past, the city has relied on consultants for its engineering needs.

Klann is still in training because although he has earned a degree in engineering, he must work with a qualified engineer for two years before he can take the engineer’s exam, Corbett said. Mike Wilson, an engineer who has been consulting for the city for about a year, will continue to mentor Klann. Wilson earns between $75 and $90 an hour working for the city, Hepperle said.

“We had been trying for over a year to hire a city engineer and were unable to find someone that we felt comfortable hiring as the engineer,” Corbett said. “So we made the decision, based on our research of the job market, that it might be easier for us to accomplish what we were trying to do, which was to get a city engineer, if we hired someone that had a degree in engineering but wasn’t licensed.”

Corbett said Klann’s responsibilities will include reviewing land use applications that involve public infrastructure to make sure they comply with city standards and working with the public works department on the installation of public projects.

The new community development director will oversee the public works department, the city engineer and planning staff, Corbett said. He added that he has made an offer on the position and is waiting for a response.

The main responsibility of the position will be “coordinating the efforts between planning, engineering and public works,” Corbett said. The position essentially is the same as what was previously called the assistant city manager, although Corbett said he has removed language from the job description saying that the assistant city manager is in charge in the absence of the city manager. Gillham had been Prineville’s first assistant city manager in a while.

“I think there might have been some concern about how the position was perceived in the public,” he said. “There were a lot of questions about whether or not the city needed an assistant city manager, and I guess I wanted to try and make a clean start as a part of the healing process.”

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