Dukes County engineer is a roving multi-tasker
The Dukes County engineer, who is paid an annual salary by the county, has been hired by the planning board of the town of Oak Bluffs as its inspector of the construction of Corey Kupersmith's luxury housing development off County Road.
This is the third job, including his engineer's position, for the multi-tasking Stephen Berlucchi. He is also a deputized county sheriff, charged with writing traffic tickets for motorists parked improperly on County property.
Richard Combra Sr., a former member of the county finance advisory board, recently questioned whether there is enough work to warrant a full-time county engineer, if Mr. Berlucchi has time available to take on other work.
Mr. Berlucchi was paid $70,500 this year, for services performed for Island towns. Mr. Berlucchi is contracted to the county through his company, Baseline Engineering.
Winn Davis, the county manager, said Mr. Berlucchi turns in weekly reports of the hours he has worked, and this week, Mr. Davis's office furnished schedules dated Oct. 27, which appeared to document the jobs on which Mr. Berlucchi had worked from July through October. Mr. Davis said he does not require a daily time sheet or keep daily track of what his engineer is doing during those hours and what projects he is working on.
"I could go back and look at his work notes, but his actual hours, where he is from 8 - 8:10, no," Mr. Davis said in a telephone conversation this week.
According to the county budget, the engineering department was budgeted for $74,850 for fiscal year 2006. After paying Mr. Berlucchi's salary, the remaining $4,350 was budgeted for computer repairs, travel expenses, stationary, and other costs associated with the position, Mr. Davis said.
In addition to his contract with the county, Mr. Berlucchi was recently hired by the Oak Bluffs planning board to serve as its inspector during the construction of the Kupersmith development. John Bradford, Oak Bluffs planning board chairman, confirmed Mr. Berlucchi's hiring at a rate of $75 per hour. Mr. Berlucchi was again hired through his company, Baseline Engineering. The development, named South Woods Farms, is a 26-lot luxury housing development on 90 acres off County Road in Oak Bluffs.
"He was recommended by several people that had worked with him," Mr. Bradford said, adding that he didn't believe Mr. Berlucchi was using county vehicles or working on county time while working for the planning board.
Mr. Combra was doubtful. He said that while he served on the advisory board, he was concerned that there may not be enough work to warrant a full-time contract engineer. In light of Mr. Berlucchi's involvement with the Kupersmith development, Mr. Combra said his concerns were reignited.
"I just have the sense that possibly the county engineer's position doesn't have full-time work that warrants the position," Mr. Combra said. "I've seen him in there doing his inspections and so forth, and he appears to be doing the work with the county vehicle and possibly on time that he is being paid by the county. I think both the advisory board and the county commissioners should want to know whether that is happening or not."
Last week, The Times requested copies of the work reports that Mr. Berlucchi turns in each week. Mr. Davis said he would need until the end of the week to gather the information.
When the newspaper requested the reports again this week, Mr. Davis said he would fax them to the Times office. When the reports did not arrive, The Times left several more messages with Mr. Davis. Shortly before press time yesterday, Jennifer Caton, the county administrative assistant, faxed over two sets of documents.
The first is a series of invoices, each covering a two-week period, except for the most recent invoice, which is for the last three weeks. One column on the invoice is labeled "task," followed by "available hours," "hours billed this invoice," and "billable hours remaining." On each of the invoices, which are signed by Mr. Berlucchi, he lists a certain number of hours worked under the task "capital project engineering." Although there are six other task categories including grants, technical assistance to towns and contractor supervision, none of these tasks are highlighted with any hours.
The invoices obtained by The Times date back to July 3. The invoices list how many hours Mr. Berlucchi worked each week, but do not say what projects or assignments he was working on.
Separately, a cluster of "activity reports" were faxed to The Times, which give a more detailed report of which projects Mr. Berlucchi was working on in the various towns. All the reports, which list projects dating back to early July, are dated Oct. 27. Main Street resurfacing in Tisbury, West Tisbury pathways, and the Chappy Fire Station addition are a few of the projects listed on the activity reports.
Both sets of invoices are printed with Baseline Engineering, Mr. Berlucchi's company, across the top.
No easy answers
Gathering data from the county has often been a laborious task in the past. According to a Times article published earlier this year, "quantifiable data from the county was difficult to obtain" when a reporter was writing about the county rodent control officer. The reporter requested work reports for various county officials, including the rodent control officer, and received single page sheets with multiple, undated invoices.
The article also said that, based on the information gathered, it did not appear that Mr. Davis received standardized weekly or monthly reports to show work activity and billing for the rodent control officer.
It also came to light this September that Mr. Berlucchi was sworn in as a deputy sheriff and subsequently given the authority to issue parking tickets along State Beach. Despite his initial blunder, which sent a handful of drivers to the court clerk's office to contest tickets that were issued for parking the wrong way on Beach Road along State Beach, Mr. Davis maintains that it is essential that Mr. Berlucchi issue tickets in that area.
"We needed to step up the enforcement," regarding people parking on the beach," Mr. Davis said. "He is on that road regularly because he does a lot of work [down-Island] and he also does work on the beach itself."
When asked why a contract employee should be given a county ticket book and the power to administrator violations, Mr. Davis said, "The sheriff had no difficulty with that, and he appointed him. So, the sheriff had no difficulty, I had no difficulty."