Commissioner resigns over plan to revamp Tisbury DPW

Long-serving Leo DeSorcy leveled a blast at Tisbury selectmen and DPW union employees on his way out the door.

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Tisbury selectmen appointed Ray Tattersall to be the new director of the Tisbury Department of Public Works last week. — File Photo by Janet Hefler

Tisbury Board of Public Works (BPW) Chairman Leo DeSorcy resigned at the start of the board’s regular meeting Monday. Mr. DeSorcy said a decision by voters at town meeting last week to put the department of public works (DPW) back under the control of selectmen, coupled with frustration over ongoing issues and complaints from union employees, led to his decision.

“Fifteen years; I’ve had enough,” Mr. DeSorcy, a well-respected contractor, said, after he handed Vice Chairman John Thayer his two-sentence resignation letter. “I thank you, gentlemen. I just can’t listen to it anymore. I really can’t.”

Commissioners George Balco, Jeff Kristal, and Denys Wortman joined Mr. Thayer in thanking Mr. DeSorcy for his time. Since 1989, when it was established through state legislation, the Tisbury BPW has operated as an independent, elected board that oversees the town’s department of public works (DPW).

All that is about to change. On April 14, town meeting voters approved an article put forth by the board of selectmen to place the DPW and its functions back under their control. The legislative process is estimated to take about 18 months.

The revamped DPW would include refuse and recycling services, municipal building maintenance, highway and sidewalk maintenance, parks and recreation, cemetery maintenance and operations, wastewater operations, and special projects, under the selectmen’s management and direction. In addition to restructuring the DPW’s management, the selectmen would replace the elected BPW with an advisory board that they would appoint.

Selectmen Jon Snyder and Tristan Israel voted to approve the DPW warrant article at a special meeting on Feb. 25, during school vacation week. Selectman Melinda Loberg participated in the meeting by speakerphone from Colorado but was unable to vote. DPW Director Glenn Mauk and BPW commissioners were not present at the meeting.

The special meeting was called following a previous meeting, at which town officials and community members harshly criticized the DPW’s snow-clearing efforts after a massive January snowstorm.

In a Letter to the Editor published April 8, selectmen Jon Snyder, Melinda Loberg, and Tristan Israel urged voters to endorse the warrant article to enable them and town administrator Jay Grande, who serves as personnel director and chief procurement officer, to oversee and coordinate the DPW’s functions and personnel.

At Tisbury town meeting, Mr. Grande provided a lengthy PowerPoint in support of the change. Mr. DeSorcy and Mr. Thayer told voters they learned about the article to restructure the DPW from a reporter, without any notification or discussion with the selectmen.

Mr. DeSorcy argued that the article was incomplete, in that the selectmen had not offered any details as to how the DPW would be restructured, or the costs involved. A motion was made to table the article, but failed to achieve a two-third majority. The article was approved 124-67.

Disgusted with selectmen

Revisiting the issue Monday, the BPW commissioners said they felt blindsided by the selectmen’s action.

“I’m disgusted by how easily the townspeople were led to make that vote,” Mr. DeSorcy said Monday. “I’m ashamed of our selectmen, for how they presented it, with no when, whys, hows — we still know nothing. As a taxpayer I still don’t know who’s doing it, who’s paying for it, who’s going to administrate it.”

“I was pretty disgusted at the meeting and the fact that the selectmen never came to talk to us, to say can we work together, is there anything we can do,” Mr. Wortman added.

“No; there is merit in trying to improve something, but there is no merit in introducing something at town meeting where seven percent of our population goes,” Mr. DeSorcy said. “It’s like training a puppy dog, and it’s completely reactionary, as always, as opposed to someone actually thinking about who’s going to do it.”

Mr. DeSorcy predicted that the selectmen would end up having to hire one, if not two, additional employees, at $80,000 to $100,000 each, to handle the DPW duties.

“We saved the town so much money with getting rid of trash collection, a prime example,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars, lots of problems keeping our personnel down, and what do they do? We need another tax override … and we’re going to hire an IT [information technology] person.”

“So you’re saying you saw the town meeting vote as a town vote of no confidence in the commissioners?” Mr. Thayer asked.

“One hundred percent,” Mr. DeSorcy responded. “It would be my recommendation we all just leave, but I can only speak for myself. If the selectmen are so smart and they know how to do everything so well, they should start tomorrow. I would love to see that happen.

“And how many people would they have to hire to deal with just a fraction of what we do?” he added.

Fire 99 percent

Before Mr. DeSorcy tendered his resignation, he called the board’s attention to two photos of a broken street sign on William Street, recently repaired by a DPW employee. The one-way street sign had been sloppily refastened to its post using two pieces of scrap wood and U-bolt brackets that jutted out from the sign’s front.

“And it’s not like it’s on some back street — that’s in our historic district,” Mr. DeSorcy pointed out.

Mr. Thayer said he received the photos in a text from a William Street homeowner and forwarded them to Mr. Mauk, who went out and removed the sign at 7 pm that night.

“I really think the union people have managed to dumb their work level down to an excruciatingly low threshold of what’s acceptable,” Mr. Thayer said. “There are half a dozen people here, drawing $50,000 to $70,000 a year, plus overtime, plus benefits, who think this is actually the level they should be operating at. To me, this is a straight-up termination level. Whoever did this, I want to find out who it is and invite him to leave the department.”

Mr. Thayer said he has witnessed a “parade of obstruction” by union employees against Mr. Mauk since he began as director of the DPW about a year and a half ago. As of February, union employees had filed 15 separate grievances alleging union contract violations.

“And the selectmen and the people who write the municipal employee union contracts over and over again — welcome to what you’ve created,” Mr. Thayer said. “We’ve tried to enforce it, and it’s been miserable and really excruciating in the last year and a half. I’m actually relieved that this part of my day is going to go away at a certain time.”

Mr. DeSorcy said the DPW has a few good employees, but too many bad apples.

“I’m disgusted with the amount of complaints and all those union grievances, most of which a grown man should be ashamed of himself to have any of that ever come up,” he said. “The nuts are running this Island now. If only we had the ability to fire them all — or at least 99 percent of them. If they hate it so much, they should quit.”

Move forward

Mr. DeSorcy left the meeting. Mr. Thayer asked the other commissioners for their reactions.

“I can understand why Leo’s doing what he’s doing,” Mr. Balco said. “But at the same point in time, this won’t really solve anything. We have to go forward from here. And I do think, and I’ve expressed this in the past, that communication between us and all the other parts of town should be increased, and it’s very important.”

Mr. Kristal, a former selectman, said Mr. DeSorcy’s decision to resign was understandable but unfortunate.

“With Leo goes a lot of experience, not only from sitting on this board but also a lot of hands-on, mechanical engineering experience he has that this board will be missing,” he said. “I honestly don’t know if this town will ever recover from what just happened at town meeting. I think there’s going to be a huge learning curve for whoever comes in for the appointed board, which will delay things getting done.”

Mr. Wortman said he was sorry to see Mr. DeSorcy leave, and had considered it himself.

“We’re all lame ducks now, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to be appointed, and I won’t accept a position to the appointed board. Because the selectmen will be asking for our advice, I would think, but are they going to take it?”

Mr. Wortman suggested that if the selectmen really want to take over the DPW, “take it over, but be the front line. Don’t put this buffer in between that has no power.”

Mr. Thayer concurred with Mr. Wortman about serving on an appointed board whose advice the selectmen could disregard.

“I’m not sitting on that; we were actually solving problems for the town of Tisbury’s infrastructure,” he said.