Friday August 31, 2012

LENOX -- When storms threaten and road projects beckon, who're ‘gonna call?

For 17 years, the go-to guy for anything involving streets, trees, reservoirs, sewers, sidewalks and the like has been Superintendent of Public Works Jeffrey Vincent.

Widely viewed as a hero by townsfolk for always rising to the occasion, Vincent's recently-announced decision to step down from his $78,000 a year post has cast a pall over local leaders.

"We're talking about the end of an era here," pronounced Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler at the most recent meeting. "This is something I have difficulty bringing up."

"As anyone knows who's lived in this town," Fowler went on, "Jeff is just an amazing guy. The more I know him, the more I admire him for what he's done, and he's done it all with a calmness that's just commendable."

Noting Vincent's quick reaction to prospective or actual emergencies, Fowler observed that "it's going to be tough not to have Jeff on my speed-dial. It's going to be very difficult to replace him."

But not so fast -- it isn't gold-watch time yet for Vincent, an energetic, youthful-looking 62.

As Town Manager Gregory Federspiel explained, Vincent will transition into a new role to manage the town's formidable list of big-ticket projects in the years ahead, including major, federally mandated sewer system upgrades that could cost up to $10 million.

"So, we won't lose his services completely," Federspiel assured the Selectmen.

Vincent, during a conversation on Thursday, emphasized that he hasn't reached retirement age, but acknowledged that he believes his ability to respond to the public's needs while overseeing and planning expensive capital projects is declining.

"Hopefully, it hasn't been noticed by the public yet," he added.

Stressing that no specific incident led to his decision to seek a new role, the Ravena, N.Y., native who began as superintendent in Lenox on Sept. 11, 1995, said he's keen on the plan he's working on with Federspiel to take responsibility for the capital projects after the town seeks and hires a new DPW superintendent.

"The day-to-day calls for downed tree limbs, potholes, sewer blockages, dead squirrels in the road, those would be up to my successor," said Vincent, who hopes to make the transition in November.

He would relocate to Town Hall, continuing as a town employee. "I'd be happy to stay on," said Vincent. He said the salary could be managed since fewer "clerks of the works" would need to be hired for major projects since he would now have the time to supervise them more closely.

"We've got a large capital workload right now with big projects coming up," he noted. "It's tough for any one person to oversee all that."

Summing up his reasoning, Vincent stated that "I couldn't keep up with doing the job the way I want to. When we were doing a $2 million sewer upgrade, I couldn't be there as much as I wanted to. I'm not comfortable about that."

Noting that "we're spending all these taxpayer dollars, are we really getting the job we're paying for? I feel that responsibility and want to live up to it but can't while dealing with payroll, personnel and taxpayer questions."

After being assured that his professional obituary was not being written, Vincent agreed to discuss the projects he's most proud of during his 17 years.

Topping the list was the West Street (Route 183) renovation completed last year, a $4.3 million project that upgraded the heavily-traveled route from downtown to Tanglewood.

Vincent said it took more than a decade to plan the project, win the state funding and see it through.

He also cited the water storage tank in Kennedy Park, the sewer-pump station being reconstructed on New Lenox Road and, going back a decade, the Crystal Street rebuild in Lenox Dale.

"My real job is serving the community, that's what I get a lot of satisfaction out of," Vincent said.

He also pointed out that the town's employees have risen to the challenges of weather emergencies -- torrential rainfalls, fierce windstorms, tropical storms and blizzards -- "it's the whole department that responds."

Offering assurances that he'll be out and around a lot after he helps his successor learn the ropes, Vincent insisted that "I won't be any less busy."

Vincent, who considers himself "very fortunate because I really enjoy what I do and I have a great team of employees here at the DPW," said that during his tenure, he has worked with three town managers, three police chiefs, four school superintendents and 16 Selectmen.

"Somehow, they can't get rid of me," he quipped.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto

Lenox seeking replacement

The town of Lenox is advertising an opening for the DPW Superintendent post soon to be vacated by Jeffrey Vincent after 17 years running the department.

Town Manager Gregory Federspiel is seeking letters of interest and résumés at his Town Hall office by Sept. 20. The job description includes supervision of highway, water, wastewater, cemetery and forestry-grounds operations, with work performed in an office and in the field.

The position requires a bachelor's degree in civil engineering or related discipline and a minimum of five years of related public works or construction experience. The town also seeks someone with at least three years of supervisory experience directly related to construction work of roads and utilities.

The salary range is put at $64,000 to $78,000, plus benefits.