Public Works Chief Let Go

Melissa Bailey PhotoThe city is looking for a new public works chief now that Doug Arndt has left the building.

Mayor Toni Harp decided not to renew Arndt’s (pictured) contract as public works director. He worked his last day on Friday.

For now, Chief Administrative Officer Michael Carter will spend a few days a week at public works and run it along with deputies, Harp said Monday. She said no decision has been made yet whether to look outside the department for a replacement or to hire from within. The job pays $132,500 a year.

“There is some sense that there is untapped capability within the department,” Harp said.

Harp said she had told Arndt she would wait to decide on reappointing him until Carter had time to take the helm as chief administrative officer and assess where he wants to take the line departments he oversees, including public works. She said her administration now wants to take public works in a new direction.

“There seemed to be a little bit of a difference about how to move forward with getting some of these things implemented in the department,” Harp said. “They’ve done a lot of contracting out of work. They’re going to be bringing more of it in-house.” She suggested that the city might rely on staff to repair smaller sidewalks and to pave and mill smaller streets, for instance.

Arndt, who’s 45, told the Independent Monday that he felt he left the job on a positive note. “I hope if nothing else” that he and his team served as a stabilizing force during a time of transition in the city, and that they worked hard to clear streets during major snowstorms.

While waiting for the Harp administration to decide whether to keep him, Arndt said, he “passed up” “potential job opportunities” elsewhere. “I wasn’t going to jump ship prematurely,” he said. Now he’s back on the job market.

“I hope New Haven continues to improve and move forward,” he said.

Harp said she has full confidence in Carter’s ability to step in and help run the department before a new chief takes over. He previously ran pubic works departments in Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, and Louisville.

Former Mayor John DeStefano appointed Arndt in 2013 on a one-year contract. Arndt previously served as public works chief in the town of Monroe. Five days into his appointment Arndt was immediately thrust in overseeing snow removal during a once-in-a-century blizzard,while the mayor was in Ireland. Click on the video to watch him explain to a frustrated Fair Havener how he made decisions.

Harp is shown in this video with Arndt at public works headquarters in February 2014 thanking crews for their extra-duty work clearing the streets during another “grueling winter.”

In a letter to Arndt dated Friday, Carter wrote that “this decision is no reflection on your public works experience or knowledge but simply due to the city administration’s desire for a different management style going forward.” Carter wrote that according to memo of understanding, Arndt will be “available to consult on departmental matters” from Aug. 11 to Aug. 31, after he and department brass spend a week “work[ing] out who will do what and how we will communicate.”

Click here to read the letter.

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posted by: Noteworthy on August 4, 2014  12:26pm

New Hire New Direction Notes:

1. Traffic Czar - no experience; Small and Minority Biz Czar - no experience; Labor Relations Czar - no experience. What patronage debt will be repaid with this job? Surely there is an alder or two left who needs well paying job job with rich bene’s.

2. Don’t know the record of Indianapolis and Louisville Public Works Departments, but DC’s Public Works is a public disgrace - from street cleaning to snowplowing; from its recycling program to overpaying on its overtime. It’s pathetic and has been. I’m not sure the House of Harp should leave this critical area vacant for too long.

posted by: robn on August 4, 2014  12:52pm

“They’ve done a lot of contracting out of work. They’re going to be bringing more of it in-house.

Cha-ching! Union payoff for campaign support. Let’s watch to see if the public works budget skyrockets.

posted by: Noteworthy on August 4, 2014  1:02pm

By the Way Notes:

1. A “new direction” is not doing more work in-house vs. contracted. If that’s the case, then simply tell the guy to bring it in house.

2. You don’t fire somebody over such a petty thing like that - and hurt his family on top of it.

3. What’s the real story?

posted by: webblog on August 4, 2014  2:03pm

Arnie minutes:

“Arndt will earn $132,500 in a one-year appointment beginning Monday. After that, a new mayor will decide the future of the department”.

Arndt knew or should have known it was a slippery slop when he took the one year appointment(required by charter) offered by DeStefano:

John Prokop retired at a salary of $98.5K, Rob Smuts snuggled up to the finance committee with the story that the city could not refill the position because no other town paid so little.

The finance committee(board of rubber-stampers) brought that cover story and approved a salary range up to $150K, they settled at $132.5K for starters. Arndt proved to be a status quo director who told community groups that the DPW was doing an “exceptional job”.

That was the first nail in his coffin.

Secondly, he failed to alert the mayor’s office timely that the floor of the DPW was collapsing and he needed additional bond monies to repair this emergency.

Thirdly, he poorly planned and coordinated the 2014 snow removal of city streets.

Finally, the well deserved axe.

Harp now wants to bring many functions in-house, but, and this is a rather large but.. Laborers and supervisors were laid off by Destefano to balance his deficit spending in 2011/12/&13;.

Now what?

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on August 4, 2014  3:09pm

This is a smart move by Mayor Harp.  It make sense to prioritize bringing labor back under city control.  Yes, this may cost more, but it will also help bring more city dwellers safely within the middle/working class.  It is an opportunity for the City to employ its residents at more than the minimum wage and for people who have a vested interest in the City to begin working again.  Her task now will be to hire someone who understands that philosophy as I’m sure this was the intent.

I do have a bit of sympathy for Mr. Arndt.  I’m sure he did many things well (his job extends far beyond snow removal) and I hope he lands solidly on his feet. 

The next chapter has yet to be written and Mayor Harp seems to be on track with her appointments.  Let’s wait and see how this next one works out before rushing to judgment and speculation.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on August 4, 2014  4:49pm

Wait a minute, the man signed a one year contract. As mayor, Toni has the luxury to continue or discontinue the services of Mr. Arndt.  She’s decided to discontinue them.  What’s the big deal?

As the leader of the city this is her call.

I’m sure there are many employees saddened by this move as are many employees excited.

Although this is a time sensitive position, knowing Mayor Harp, she will definitely take her time searching for a qualified replacement to ensure that the DPW is functioning soundly.

“She suggested that the city might rely on staff to repair smaller sidewalks and to pave and mill smaller streets, for instance.” Ask any former/displaced custodian who once worked for the school system if they supported contracting out.  This idea if nothing else ensures additional employment opportunities, better wages and additional on the job training for a better skilled position.

Above all, the mayor has expressed her desire to move in a different direction.  Change isn’t “ALWAYS” bad.

posted by: Noteworthy on August 4, 2014  6:09pm

Noteworthy Notes:

1. Atticus - Harp’s appointments are a mixed bag and hardly a clear “right track.” Bringing more work in house MAY cost more? It better not. The city is broke. It has a cash flow problem. While DeStefano laid off public works, so did Harp. She traded out public works for her overpriced, overstaffed mayor’s office with new positions and higher salaries.

2. Jenkins - change isn’t always bad. Sometimes it’s just change. Arndt should have made a campaign contribution.

posted by: webblog on August 4, 2014  7:12pm

@Brian L. Jenkins on August 4, 2014 4:49pm

Correct change isn’t always bad. But it is bad when one has no plan.

Judging from Harp’s many recent appointments, clearly her focus appears to be on political pay-offs, then comptemplate changing an internal structure from what? to what? She does not say.

It will take more than two years to purchase and plan the purchase of milling equipment, even if for small streets and sidewalks.

It will take more than two years to rebuild and train a skilled labor force with trained street supervision.

Until then, the most practical approach is to continue contracting out while planning for a skilled work force down the line.

But even before that, recruit and hire a proven experienced director, like Vanessa Burns, and not some political hack that happens to be standing next in a long line of many.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on August 4, 2014  10:27pm

Your assertion of Mayor Harp as having “no plan” is astonishing at best.  The idea of her wanting to train public works employees to build and repair sidewalks sounds like a plan to me.

I too have been very critical of Mayor Harp in the past.  However, I give her enormous credit for attempting to operate outside of the box in many areas that hopefully will benefit the interest of taxpayers.

@Noteworthy, Vanessa Burns would be a brilliant move if she’s willing to do it and if Mayor Harp is willing to make that happen. So I guess change is good if Vanessa’s installed, correct?  Further, can you show some humility and maturity when the mayor does something that agree with?

posted by: Noteworthy on August 5, 2014  11:02am

@Brian Jenkins Notes:

1. Firing the public works director, having no replacement and having the chief administrative officer run the department when he’s still trying to find his way to the office is in fact, having no plan. If there is a plan, it should be made public.

2. Vanessa Burns? This Vanessa Burns?

Absolutely NOT. If the mayor gets around to doing something I agree with, I’ll let you know. So far, it doesn’tlook promising.

3. I don’t believe in firing somebody who is good and competent without reason. “New direction” and “different management style” are over-used phrases that executives use to cover their backsides or make up a passable reason for termination. If Arndt is a poor manager or did a lousy job, say it.

posted by: FacChec on August 5, 2014  12:26pm

@ noteworthy:

Yes that is the Vanessa Burns in 1991, this is she in 2014.

Vanessa, also returned to New Haven to work on Harps campaign, which should fit right in with Harps political appointmen actions, however, unlike many of the Mayor’s appointments, Ms. Burns actually has a multitude of public works experiences.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on August 5, 2014  1:11pm

Noteworthy, “tsk-tsk.”

“If Arndt is a poor manager or did a lousy job, say it.”  She did, she fired him!!

The chief administrative officer gets paid to do just what the mayor charged him with. Run the department until they find a replacement.

“If there is a plan, it should be made public.”  Noteworthy, I’ve been looking for that same statement from you when DeStefano was in office, but unfortunately I can’t seem to locate it, can you help me?

posted by: Noteworthy on August 5, 2014  7:24pm

The termination letter said it had nothing to do with performance. It was for a new direction and a “change on management style.”