With Parks Director Tony Sailer retiring in December, the city of Brainerd is exploring the idea of a public works department to replace the parks and recreation department.

The city council unanimously approved an interim public works department during a meeting Monday, Oct. 19, to see how it may work within the city. The council met virtually Monday, due to several public hearings that may have inhibited social distancing, with members having fun with a new WebEx update allowing for virtual backgrounds. Kelly Bevans reported from a sunny beach, while Jan Lambert had a cosmic pink and purple background, and City Engineer Paul Sandy sat in front of Brainerd’s historic water tower. Mayor Dave Badeaux projected the iconic iron throne from “Game of Thrones,” but had technical difficulties getting his image in view with it.

The Brainerd City Council meets via WebEx Monday, Oct. 19, with some council and staff members testing out virtual backgrounds. Screenshot
The Brainerd City Council meets via WebEx Monday, Oct. 19, with some council and staff members testing out virtual backgrounds. Screenshot

Parks board members began discussing the idea in late July when Sailer announced his retirement. Board member Kevin Yeager said he wanted to explore public works and possibly other options just to see how they may benefit the city.

A committee of council, parks board and staff members has since met to flesh out the idea and came out with the recommendation to test out a public works department without making it official.

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The interim department will begin operating Dec. 19 — the day after Sailer’s retirement — can continue for a year to give staff time to evaluate the new structure. Sandy will act as interim public works director, overseeing four branches of the city: transit, engineering, streets and parks. The parks foreman and maintenance workers will work under Sandy. The parks director position would cease to exist under this structure, and the recreation coordinator position is up in the air.

As the parks board is also working on soliciting proposals to outsource recreation programs, there are still too many unknowns as far as the recreation coordinator position. Sailer said he has talked with the YMCA and Brainerd Public Schools Community Education about recreation programs and will have more information at the next parks board meeting Oct. 27.

The city will not hire a replacement for Sailer at this time.

The committee formed to discuss the public works department will meet Oct. 30 to determine the next steps.

Mayor Badeaux, who serves as council liaison to the parks board but does not vote on council matters, thanked the council for agreeing to the trial period.

“That is something that the park board has been working hard on, and trying to figure out a way to make everything work is really important,” he said.

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