Public Works Departments

Dear Management Doctor,

I am the Director of Development Services for a County.  Having started off 9 years ago as the Zoning Administrator and Planner, I have built a GIS Department of 3.5 FTE, added an additional planner (currently at 2 staff planners plus myself), and reorganized the structure when I took over 6 years ago to house the Building Department, GIS, Planning & Zoning, and some other misc. functions under a clear and consolidated Department.

A little more than 3 years ago I took on a chunk of what would be considered “Public Works” since the County had no office or staff to fill that need.  I have drafted and managed our road standards, infrastructure review & permitting, the CIP, been the project manager on ~$20M worth of large capital projects (roads to bridges to Federal river projects), numerous trail planning and construction projects, etc.

In October 2013, I was handed a dysfunctional Surveyor’s office.  The Surveyor retired, the other 1.75 staff were issued a RIF, and the office was closed with the services contracted and/or inserted into the daily routine of the Planning and GIS offices.  We are projected to save at least 64% of the annual budget and have been providing a higher level of service than what was previously available.

April 1st of 2014 I was placed over the Road and Weed Departments.  With the Road Superintendent retiring and 5 additional RIFs, I have rebuilt the management structure and budget in those 2 Departments and am moving forward on new policy across the board, revised work schedules, and a complete equipment analysis (we are in the process of removing 1/3 of our current fleet and getting a few needed pieces upgraded) among other things.

Council is asking for a new organizational chart on May 27th to accommodate all of the changes.  There is the debate of wanting to form a proper Public Works Department, however we contract all of our engineering and surveying services, so it is in effect a shell that we put the Road and Weed work within plus the contract engineering/surveying services (which are operated out of the Planning and GIS offices).  Council wants it because our code dictates that we have a Public Works Department (it has said that since 1994 to no avail though…) and it is an “industry standard”.  I am leaning towards leaving everything under the umbrella of Development Services since it seems to fit.  Otherwise I create a Public Works shell and a Community Development shell and stick them under Development Services but have absolutely no change to our staffing or physical/authority structure. More structure for the sake of structure does not give me bodies to fill the holes, just more titles (I have plenty already). I am ultimately interested in blending the organizations together even more, so reducing the structural separation as much as possible is also important to me. Any thoughts on untangling this structural mess and moving forward in a way that makes sense internally, to the public, and the development community?


Dear Organization Tangled,

For a small organization like yours, you should keep all of these functions together. Call them whatever you want or meets the political environment, but keep them together. Sounds like you are doing a great job.

Best wishes,

the Management Doctor


Reader Responses

Wow—talk about doing more with less!  If I were in this person’s shoes and was not an engineer, and I am not, I would worry about contracting all engineering services without having an in-house engineer to provide some review, supervision, and oversight of the engineering services contracted.  Just a thought.

Ben Orsbon