Reorganizing city government

City council approves department restructuring

Jill Schramm/MDN City staff mow along Burdick Expressway West Thursday. The City of Minot’s Public Works Department accounts for more than 30% of the city’s staffing.

Looking to improve city operations, the Minot City Council on Friday approved a restructuring plan that would split the City of Minot’s Public Works Department and create a position for an assistant city manager to provide public works and engineering oversight.

The council voted unanimously to go with a plan proposed by City Manager Harold Stewart to create a Utilities Department to oversee water and landfill services, while streets, storm sewer, cemetery, transit and property maintenance would remain with the Public Works Department. Engineering functions would be consolidated into the Engineering Department. The directors of all three departments would report to the assistant city manager.

The announced retirement of Public Works Director Dan Jonasson on Sept. 1 prompted the council to consider restructuring.

“I believe that there are some efficiencies that we can gain through this restructuring process and make the Public Works Department and those other services stronger and better and more efficient than what they are today,” Stewart said. “I do think these departments need some direct executive management level focus, priority and interaction. It isn’t me saying the Public Works Department is bad or poorly managed. What I’m trying to do is raise the organization from a good organization to a better organization to the best organization.”

Stewart cited the heavy workload of the Public Works Department. The department currently accounts for more than 40% of the city budget. Its 166 full-time equivalent employees represent more than 30% of the employment.

“I think that needs some better engagement from an executive management level, and I believe this is the first phase,” Stewart told the council. “One of the things I would task the assistant city manager when they come in is to do a comprehensive dive and look into these departments – whether or not there’s any additional efficiencies that can be gained, restructuring that can be done, to help us operate in a more efficient and effective manner.”

Jonasson opposed the plan, favoring a proposal to create two assistant directors under the Public Works director.

“I don’t argue that we need an assistant city manager. I don’t think we need one just to oversee Public Works and Engineering. I think that’s being coordinated very well, and we have done a great job of that, improving that over the last 10 years,” he said.

Jonasson also spoke about the importance of a succession plan in the department and advocated for leaving the department intact and promoting an existing employee. There will be a loss of knowledge and experience to do anything differently, he said.

“If you do find someone, it’s going to take them months and years just to learn the operations around here, learn the ins and outs of flood control,” he said. Splitting the Northwest Area Water Supply and flood protection into separate departments also would be detrimental for the same reason, he said.

“We have to look at the organizational structure in terms of what’s best for the city,” council member Stephan Podrygula said. “Not what’s best for a given department and how that department is being led or who it is being led by.”

Stewart said succession planning is important but can be accomplished even with the restructuring. He indicated internal applicants for the assistant city manager position would be welcomed.

Council member Carrie Evans said she is drawn to the restructuring because of the importance of having executive-level management for the Public Works Department.

“It’s really elevating our Public Works to a higher level by doing this,” she said. “This is upping the game.”

Stewart said he considered the city’s financial capacity to make the change. The city has not been able to find the money in the budget for an assistant city manager, despite the position being seen as a need by the council and recent city managers.

The restructuring is viewed as a way to bring in that assistant manager, expected to cost $150,000 to $170,000, plus benefits, because of the opportunity to cover some of the cost with user fees in enterprise funds as well as the general fund. Stewart said to justify use of enterprise funds, the managerial employee should be providing management in that service area.


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