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Menino rebukes city DPW workers

Mayor appoints a new official to oversee reforms

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / April 26, 2008

Mayor Thomas M. Menino issued a strong rebuke yesterday to some employees in the Department of Public Works after a city investigation found that they routinely left work early and that managers failed to ensure basic tasks were completed.

The mayor also pledged that all public works vehicles will be tracked by global positioning systems using a satellite link to make sure employees are on the job, a method currently used to monitor snowplows. He did not give a timetable for implementing the new system.

"Any abuse of the public trust is unacceptable," Menino said during a press conference. "We can do better, and we will do better."

Six to eight workers will face disciplinary hearings next week, and dozens more could face similar measures as the investigation continues.

Menino also named a new deputy commissioner to oversee reforms. Elmo Baldassari, who has been the city's superintendent of sanitation, will be promoted to supervise the highway, sanitation, and recycling divisions and their field operations.

Menino said the violations were a combination of weak supervision and lack of work ethics.

"Supervision should be making sure they're where they should be going, and they're not going to the grocery store in the middle of the day or going home at 2 o'clock in the afternoon," he said. "That should never be tolerated. This is the public's trust. It's public money."

In February 2007, the Boston Finance Commission, a city watchdog agency, found that West Roxbury public works employees assigned to fill potholes, sweep streets, and pick up trash often arrived late, left early, and performed "very little work" while on the job.

Menino said yesterday that he didn't realize the nature of the problems within the department until reading the commission's report.

"Once we were informed, I hope we did it as quickly as we could," he said.

In April 2007, the city sent out a memorandum to all public works employees, reminding them that they were supposed to "work complete hours" and not take "longer than authorized lunch periods."

A resulting city audit in October showed that little had changed since the watchdog agency's report, and that the problems were potentially more widespread and chronic.

Chief of Public Works Dennis Royer took the unusual step of hiring a private investigator to spy on his employees. What the investigator saw over five weeks beginning last month, including employees falsifying co-workers' time sheets with the knowledge of their supervisors, has placed many city workers' jobs in jeopardy.

Employees assigned to the city's Brighton public works yard, the first target of the private investigator, will begin facing disciplinary proceedings Monday, city officials said. Employees at the East Boston yard and a third one, which city officials refused to name, are likely to face disciplinary hearings in the coming weeks.

According to the mayor's office, dozens of employees are under investigation for falsifying records, insubordination, and untruthfulness. There are 375 employees in the department.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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