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March 04. 2012 10:26PM

Aldermen undecided about fleet management

MANCHESTER — The city is currently searching for a skilled vehicle fleet management department head to manage the city's 461-vehicle fleet. Problem is, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen have yet to decide whether to create a department for this new staffer to run.

When the municipal complex opens its new vehicle maintenance garage this April, the city wants to consolidate various departmental repair garages into one central garage. From there the city will repair and store parts for nearly all city vehicles, from fire trucks to unmarked police cars. As part of the consolidation process, the city is looking to shrink the size of the mechanics staff, put one person in charge of running the shop and find ways to run the fleet more efficiently.

The aldermen voted last month to create a new department head-level position who would make between $75,081 and $107,047 per year.

Despite two lengthy discussions last month, questions about transitioning the current staff into new jobs, who the fleet manager will answer to and whether the city needs to create a new department at all still linger for many aldermen. Some argued the city needs an independent fleet manager running a separate department, while others want the fleet run under the Public Works Department, similar to the Highway Division.

The main sticking point has become staffing and how to shift mechanics from various city departments — and five different labor unions — into one shop under one boss. A study conducted by Matrix Consulting Group recommended the city maintain 28 fleet workers, including the new department head. Without creating a new department, the fleet manager would answer not only to the Public Works head, but the fire chief and police chief, all of whom want their vehicles repaired first.

Still in question is how these 28 positions will be filled and whether the current mechanics would maintain their jobs, seniority and benefits. One idea is to lay off all mechanic staff and rehire some to fill the new positions, possibly at a lower pay grade and at a loss of seniority.

That proposal has been unpopular with the aldermen.

“I want to make sure the people who are employed in those positions right now maintain their years of service. That's the thing that's bothering me,” said Alderman Barbara Shaw. “I'm not clear how the transition can be made or if it can be made. We haven't got an answer to that.”

Shaw said these questions need to be answered before a new department can be created.

“There's got to be a way to work this without laying people off,” she said.

Alderman Jim Roy, who supports creating a new department, said those details need to be worked out quickly, but should be done by the Human Resources and Administration joint committee, which worked out the fleet manager job description.

“I think there is some middle ground. We don't need to lay everyone off, but we need to whittle down the numbers,” said Roy.

Where he doesn't think it should be discussed is before the full board, where recent discussions have dragged on with little result.

Alderman Bill Shea, who heads the Human Resources Committee, said he believes the joint group's work is done and expects the board to tackle the remaining issues as a whole.

Alderman Pat Long also favors creating a department, but wants the employee issues resolved before a department head is put on the job. He warned the aldermen last month that not settling the issues with city unions could lead to expensive labor lawsuits.

“There is no need to draw a line. These are our employees. Let's make them part of the solution here,” said Long.

On the aldermen's agenda this week is a letter written by Alderman At-Large Dan O'Neil urging the board to wrap up these lingering questions. He recommends the board seek a legal opinion regarding the employee changes, create a transition plan into the new facility and put together a side-by-side comparison of the Matrix plan and a leaner plan put together by Mayor Ted Gatsas, calling for larger reductions in staff.

Once those tasks are finished, O'Neil wrote, Matrix should be called back for a final review.

It is uncertain whether the aldermen will take up the issue for the third meeting in a row or refer it to committee.


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