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Worcester’s 5 Big Issues: Interim City Manager Augustus Weighs In

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

 

Ed Augustus believes Worcester’s municipal workforce is as lean as possible, but warns that upcoming budget cuts may cut right to the bone.

That's the word from the Interim City Manager, who officially put himself out of contention for the full time position last week. In an interview Tuesday with GoLocalWorcester, Augustus talked about all things Worcester - from governance to crime.

Running a tight ship

Worcester Councilwoman Kate Toomey recently said department heads need to be inspired by a confident city manager and that some employees are doing the jobs of one-and-a-half to two people. One need only look to city’s Public Health Division to find 17 employees doing the work it takes 1,200 to do in Boston. Boston may be twice the size of Worcester, but that doesn’t explain the 17 to 1,200 ratio.

“And we also provide public health services for six other communities with our 17 people. I can walk you across city government and tell you that we are extremely lean regarding the number of employees. At the DPW, if they have a snowstorm and they’re shorthanded, the guys who are in the sign shop who make the street sings stop and jump on plows,” Augustus said.

“There’s not a lot of fat that I found. With the [upcoming] budget crunch we might even have some slight reduction in areas once the budget is worked through.”

Passion for Worcester

In his recent letter to the Mayor and City Council, Augustus spoke about his love for the city and the honor of serving Worcester. This is not his first time in service to the city. He was a state senator and also served on the school board. However, Augustus said serving as city manager gave him a different perspective on just what it takes to operate the city he loves.

“I saw it from different perspectives …the Federal Government as it relates to the city, the State Government as it relates to the city. The school side. It’s a unique perspective in the sense that I saw how decisions were made, how tight budgeting is and how you need to try to create priorities based on really limited resources,” he said.

Who will be Worcester's next city manager?

“As city manager you fully appreciate all the challenges and demands on city government. You come to realize how many great people and organizations there are in Worcester, whether it be our Summer Wheels to Water program and other things around the city that wouldn’t happen without some of our foundations, our businesses and colleges that contribute to the public health. You just could never do it without an engaged community of individual citizens all the way up to our highest employers and institutions.”

If not him, who?

Toomey said the next city manager should be someone who is already a success in his or her field – a CEO or President of a company or institution. Augustus said he appreciates this point of view, but believes leadership – which is found in candidates from a variety of backgrounds – is the most important quality in a city manager.

“I think it would be OK to have the background of a CEO or a President of a company. But I think what you’re looking for in a city manager is a leader. You have department heads that are subject matter experts. The Chief of Police knows the police department. The Fire Chief knows the fire department. A good city manager is coordinating across all city departments, making sure needs get met. But I’m not going to micromanage those departments. [A good city manager is] somebody who knows how to rally the community to get behind a set of priorities and make it happen. How do you get the city departments to implement that vision? How do you motivate the community to share that vision? A leader could come from a CEO or President of a company or a college, or could come from a lot of other places. Our previous city manager was parks commissioner. Leaders come from a lot of different backgrounds.”

“You’re the CEO, if you will, of the city – of a $700 Million enterprise, a workforce of a couple thousand people," continued Augustus. "I think people look to the person who is making recommendations to the city council on a whole series of issues. They look to that person to make sure their tax dollars are better spent or improve their lives or their businesses. It is the role and responsibility for the City Manager to provide that leadership on a whole host of areas.”

More Powerful Mayor?

Democratic activist Paul Giorgio believes Worcester needs a strong elected mayor form of government. At first, Augustus said he wasn’t going to touch this issue. But it’s too important to him not to elaborate.

“That’s for others to decide," said Augustus "We’ve had this form of government for that last 60-something years. I think by and large it’s served us well. We’ve never had a major corruption scandal, while many other cities have … whether it be Providence or Springfield. It’s given us good, honest government. Some would make the case that [a elected Mayor system] is more for the public to have some stake in who runs the city. City Manager form is one step away from that. A lot bigger and more complicated cities than Worcester directly elect their mayor. You could make an argument either way. There’s certainly an option if the people of Worcester want to change their form of government.”

A Proactive Police Department

In a recent interview with GoLocalWorcester, Greater Worcester Chamber of Commerce's President and CEO Tim Murray debunked the notion that Worcester is an unsafe city, saying that perception is more than reality.

“The fact of the matter is that, when looking at the data, Worcester is one of the safest cities of its size and demographic as any in the country,” Murray said.

Augustus said up front that some crimes are down – auto thefts and break-ins. He also said some crimes are on the rise, such as assault.

“Most of those [assaults] tend to be within a very small population, violent gang members, other people who are involved in some kind of drug trade. Violence among somebody who is an innocent citizen going about their business is pretty rare. We don’t want any violence in our city.”

Augustus said big crimes get big attention, making them seem more prolific.

“I just think we need to constantly make sure the people know that Worcester is a safe place to live, work and visit. Every single day literally thousands of people do that without incident. When you do see a high profile crime it’s the exception, not the norm. Our police department does a good job. They’re not static. They pay attention to trends where things are happening and they respond accordingly. We don’t sit back and just analyze this once a year.

 

Related Slideshow: 9 Challenges Facing Worcester’s New City Manager

Now the Edward Augustus is serving as City Manager for Worcester, GoLocal reached out to the city's leaders to find out what they believe are the biggest challenges Augustus will face in his new role. 

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Keep Forward Momentum

Paul Giorgio, publisher of Pagio, Inc. and a GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™:

“Priority One: Keep up the momentum.

Two: Work with the mayor on creating a task force for the north end of Main Street.

Three: Insure that we keep our school renovation plan on track.”

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Economic Development

Councilor Anthony Economou:

“Economic development is huge. We have a lot going on, and we have to keep the momentum up,” Economou said. “Make sure we don't miss a beat. You don't want to lose a period of nine months and not have forward progress.”

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Financial Management

Roberta Schaefer, former president of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau:

Schaefer said continuing the sound financial management of former City Manager Michael O'Brien was the greatest task for Augustus. But in addition to financial questions, she called for Augustus to “follow the lead of Michael O'Brien, to make sure he represents all the interests of the city, as the CEO of the city.

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Business Climate

Tim Murray, president and chief executive officer of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce:

In addition to budgeting and economic development, Murray pointed to fostering the business climate in the city. “Try to make Worcester as business-friendly a place as possible,” he said. Whether through permitting, customer service, or other incentive, “whatever we can do to make the city a supportive (place for business).”

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Budget Concerns

Christopher Pinto, member of the Worcester Republican City Committee:

“Can he really do pension reform? Can he spare the taxpayers from more abusive taxes?” asked Pinto, who wonders what Augustus will do about the Responsible Employer Ordinance and how the new city manager will make appointments to boards and commissions.

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Capital Improvements

Councilor Frederick Rushton:

Rushton said the number one challenge Augustus will face is following through toward new buildings and/or renovations to area high schools in need of capital improvements.

"Second," he said, “is completing CitySquare.”

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Public Safety

Councilor Sarai Rivera:

Rivera points to economic development, neighborhood development, and continuing to support public safety and public service, as well as “working with private and labor to support the (Responsible Employer Ordinance) and look into an apprentice program.”

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Neighborhood Development

Councilor George Russell:

“It's not necessarily 'A, B, and C,' it's more what you want to see overall,” Russell said. “For me, it's more neighborhood orientation.”

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Collective Bargaining

Councilor Anthony Economou:

Economou also cited the upcoming task of collective bargaining with union city workers. “One of the challenges will be the contracts,” Economou said. “I imagine it's on his radar, to get those discussions going.”

 
 

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