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Brainerd makes public works department permanent

The public works department encompasses parks, streets, engineering and transit under one umbrella.

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Brainerd Parks Board Chair Kevin Yeager talks to the city council Monday, July 19, 2021, about making the interim public works department a permanent entity, having authority over parks, transit, engineering and streets. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd’s interim public works department will become permanent, consolidating several city departments, including parks and recreation.

The city council agreed last October to test out an interim public works department , following a request from the parks board after Parks Director Tony Sailer’s announcement of a December retirement . The new department began operating Dec. 19 — the day after Sailer’s departure — with City Engineer Paul Sandy at the helm as interim director.

Public works has operated as an umbrella department of sorts, with Sandy overseeing transit, engineering, streets and parks. The parks foreman and maintenance report directly to Sandy, as does the recreation coordinator in the parks department. Under the new structure, a parks director position is eliminated, but parks programs will continue as normal.

“Things are going extremely well,” City Administrator Jennifer Bergman told the council Monday, July 19.

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While the interim department was originally set up to run for a year, Human Resources Director Kris Schubert, who was not at Monday’s meeting, told the parks board last week staff decided to look at the department structure now as the 2022 budget process is starting and as the city is doing a market rate study for city positions to determine if wage adjustments need to be made anywhere.

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Ongoing updates to the city’s charter also factor into the decision, Parks Board Chair Kevin Yeager told the board during last week’s meeting. Yeager also sits on the city’s charter commission.

“Generally, the trajectory of the charter is moving towards less specific job titles and moving more towards a monolithic government that has the ability to add people or to move people around to accomplish tasks,” Yeager said. “So more task- and job description-oriented versus personnel- and position-oriented type movement.”

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Yeager came to Monday’s council meeting as well to advocate for the effectiveness of the interim public works department thus far.

“I would say that we’ve been exceedingly happy,” he told the council, relaying the parks board’s feelings. “There’s been a bit of a learning curve with just some of the aspects of who’s doing what and why and when, but Mr. Sandy and the rest of the staff have been just exemplary in the transition, and I can see every day, every meeting, it continuing to smooth out more and more and more.”

As a user of the city’s parks and summer T-ball and baseball programs, council member Gabe Johnson said he feels this year’s programming is the best it has ever been since he has been raising his kids.

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The city is working with Brainerd Public Schools Community Education and the YMCA on some of this summer’s parks activities.

“So we haven’t lost a step in the programming and maybe improved it,” Johnson said, also praising Sandy and his staff for their work.

With city council members agreeing to the shift to a permanent public works department, the next step is for staff to review applicable job descriptions and make any necessary modifications. Staff members will bring any changes or recommendations back to the council at a later date.

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RELATED: New park gets funding: State approves $2.85 mil for Mississippi River park proposed for south Brainerd In 2017, the group came up with Mississippi Landing Trailhead Park, a community education and gathering space along the Mississippi on East River Road in Brainerd. The funds will come from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.
Sandy thanked the council for making the move permanent.

“I appreciate the confidence in my department and the maintenance guys and our recreation staff to continue on with this work structure,” he said. “I think it’s been good for all of us, and I think we have a lot of good places we’re going.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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