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A reorganization in the ‘Works’

By Staff | Dec 15, 2008

Darold Nienhaus stands at the wastewater treatment plant.

An increased workload for the Public Works director and potential fines from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has Winnebago’s personnel committee looking for a way to address the problems.

Its answer: Eliminate the director’s position and make Darold Nienhaus head of just the wastewater treatment facility.

City Administrator Jennifer Feely and Mayor Randy Nowak told the council Tuesday night several meetings have been held with Nienhaus to find a way to reduce his workload.

Feely says in August 2007 the treatment plant went from a minor to major facility classification. That, she says, requires more time and testing requirements.

“The bottom line is the city could get fined for testing not done,” says Feely.

In May, Nowak received a letter from the MPCA about tests and reports not completed and fines could be imposed.

Nienhaus would no longer be in charge of the water and street departments. Under the proposed change the department heads in public works would report to Feely.

But, Councilman Dana Gates thinks more time is needed to review the plan before a decision is made. He also wants Nienhaus present when the council votes on the proposal.

“Darold called me this afternoon and he was having reservations about this,” says Gates. “This is a management reconstruction. We’re seeing this for the first time. I’m just asking for a little more time to study this,” he adds.

Feely says she also talked with Nienhaus and he had no problems with the idea.

Councilmember Maryann McClain says the plan would benefit Nienhaus and it’s a way to take some pressure off him.

The goal of the reorganization, says Nowak, is to eliminate the ‘middle man’ when any decisions have to be made. He says repairs costing more than $1,000 was done on a culvert without approval.

“They (public works department heads) know their jobs. There is no reason why they couldn’t report to Jennifer. She’s actually the person in charge of all departments,” adds Nowak.

Councilmembers Rick Johnson and Paul Loomis asked that a decision be tabled until the next meeting.

Loomis says he would like to see things remain as they are.

“I’d like to see one person in charge. Every organization I’ve seen has one person at the top,” Loomis says.

Gates also is concerned the plan could end up costing the city more money because Nienhaus would be eligible for overtime. Feely says like other public works employees, any overtime hours would require prior approval.

For the past month, the department has been working under the new system and Feely says it has been going well.

The council is expected to consider the proposal again at its next meeting.