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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission member targets county public works director

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

One of the Linn County Commissioners targeted the county Public Works Department head with his criticism at Monday's commission meeting. (Journal file photo)

By Charlene Sims

MOUND CITY – Linn County Commissioner Jim Johnson used much of the commission’s weekly meeting on Monday, Aug. 14, to criticize operation of the county’s Public Works Department, placing department Director Shaun West squarely in his crosshairs.

Several of Johnson’s questions indicated that he already knew the answers to his questions. The commissioner has been pointedly critical of Public Works employees following the selection of a new shop foreman for the south district last month.

According to fellow Commissioner Jason Hightower in an earlier commission meeting, Johnson had hand-picked a person for that job, but the person wasn’t selected.

Johnson’s criticism began when West told the commissioners that he had been having a discussion with officials from the STARS job-skills training program about having students perform demolition on the Pleasanton Senior Center’s new building at Sixth and Main streets in Pleasanton.

Shaun said the program officials offered to do the bathroom remodeling also. West said that the painting would still be contracted out.

West then presented an assistance application from STARS asking for help with cleaning the parking lot. He said that after doing construction, the parking lot needed to be swept with a piece of machinery.

Commission Chair Danny McCullough asked what equipment would be used.

West said because of the size of the lot, he thought sending the grasshopper over with a broom attachment would work. He said it did not look like that big of a project.

Johnson said that he did not think that the county needed to take on anything else.

“We have ditches to clean and lots of mowing out there that is not being done,” said Johnson.

West said that volunteers came in over the weekend to do mowing projects so the county could catch up. He also said that the chip-and-seal projects were now completed and they are now moving onto patching. The road crew is going to take a break of a week or so from patching so they can catch up on grading and mowing.

Johnson asked if the county was paying overtime for the weekend volunteers. West said that they started with employees wanting comp time. He said his understanding was all their time this weekend would be diverted into comp time.

County Clerk David Lamb said that anything over their 40 hours would be time and a half.

Johnson asked why the road crews should take on more work.

West said that he was thinking of using the maintenance department for this work.

Commissioner Jason Hightower said he did not have any problem doing that for STARS, and McCullough pointed out they were helping at the senior center. The motion to approve the assistance application for cleaning the parking lot and in return the program was helping them out was approved by a 2-to-1 vote. Johnson voted against the motion.

McCullough said that he received several phone calls about mowing that needed to be done and asked how the road crew was moving forward with that.

West said that they had pulled two mowers into the south end of the county where there were no mowers. Since chip-and-seal is done, the road crew will be mowing this week until they start with a five-man crew on patching next week.

Johnson asked if the county used their sign man/traffic control person on the chip-and-seal everyday. West said that he would have to check the rotations and see how he was being used.

“Who is his boss?” asked Johnson. West answered that he was.

“You don’t know where he is at?” asked Johnson.

I don’t know the exact assignments he has during chip-and-seal, said West.

Johnson said he thought the county was pulling guys off maintainers when they could use Kevin Amer from traffic control and keep the guys out mowing.

West said he would have to check with the asphalt foreman who works with the road foremen to decide what their needs are and who to assign on the chip and seal. He said they had people doing jobs they were not familiar with to develop more flexibility in what they do.

Next, Johnson asked West if they had cut any brush with the new track hoes

West said he knew that some brush had been cut but that more training was going to be done with the crew because they are different to operate than the boom mower.

Johnson asked if the person who took out the track hoe was trained on it.

West said the company they had purchased them from gave a training.

Johnson asked West to get the location it was used on in the southern part of the county.

Then, Johnson asked about the cost summary report and how the hourly rate was determined because it looked to him that it was a much higher rate than the county was paying.

County Counselor Gary Thompson explained that was the amount the county could be reimbursed if the county turns around and bills the work to federal agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

McCullough said that includes the labor to do the work, wear and tear on the equipment, and other costs.

Later in the meeting, Johnson became critical again when West brought back more information about the usage of the new track hoes or excavators. West said that the south shop excavator has been used for a total of eight hours on a stretch of Paine Road near 600 Road. The north shop one had been used 7.4 hours on the 1077 and 900 Road project.

“How many hours on Paine Road?” asked Johnson.

West answered eight hours, in four separate hour increments between two different locations.

Johnson said, “Doing brush cleaning, I hope we speed up because I’ve been by there and I haven’t seen but a little bit of brush cleared, like three trees.

The county took possession of the machines about a month ago.

Johnson said, “I’m telling you Shaun I’ve been by that road. I drive by there every day and there’s three trees that have been cut.”

West said that he had not been by that location but that he had been talking with new south shop Foreman Dennis Hardy, and they agreed that there is going to be a difficult learning curve on those new machines.

Johnson then asked West if the road crew had been having some problems with it, have we broken something on it?

West said that there was a hose that became detached as they were clearing the ditch.

“So are you saying they broke it,” asked Johnson.

West said that they had put it back together.

“Is that the most qualified operator we have to run the track hoe?” asked Johnson.

West said that would be a question to ask the foremen who knows the qualifications of his staff.

“I would think we would put our most qualified guy on it, myself,” said Johnson. “I would think we wouldn’t turn somebody loose who did not have any experience on a track hoe.”

West said he could bring the foreman in next week to answer those questions if Johnson wanted him to.

“That’s the kind of stuff I am talking about right there. We’ve got that thing for over a month. We spent $300,000 and some for two pieces of equipment. We haven’t used it for eight hours. I assure you I could have taken a chainsaw and done it pretty fast, what got done,” said Johnson.

Johnson then turned again to criticism of the STARS program. “We buy the equipment and we’re not using it and then we run over to the STARS program and we do this and we do that. We are not utilizing our men right,” said Johnson.

West explained that the reason the equipment had not been used more is because the employees were working on the chip-and-seal project. He said that he did not believe that time had been devoted to any other large project that he was aware of.

Then, Johnson went another direction talking about Johnson grass and again the “road sign man.”

“We’ve got Johnson grass everywhere because we did not mow it,” said Johnson.

West told the commissioners that there were two open mower positions in the south district that they could not fill this year.

Johnson said, “We’re pulling operators of off equipment and we have a road sign man who should be up everyday with the chip-and-seal project.

Johnson kept pressing the other two commissioners asking them if the road sign guy shouldn’t be at the chip-and-seal rather than somebody off of a maintainer.

Hightower said that he did not know enough about how the road shops operate to be able to make that decision.

West said that he could not speak for the reason road foremen pick certain equipment operators to work on the chip-and seal.

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