High level resignations put spotlight on public works department

If you don’t live in Mammoth Lakes and your roads get plowed, the bridges you travel over are intact and the lawns of your community parks are green, you should give thanks to Mono County’s Public Works Department.

Every public works department is the backbone of a county, a lifeline for all of the county’s unincorporated residents.

Mono County is no different.

But in the past several months, the department has been hit with some high-profile resignations. The department head earlier this spring, Evan Nikirk, resigned and then, last week, the assistant director Kelly Garcia tendered her resignation to the county supervisors as well (Oct. 18).

“Kelly Garcia has announced her retirement from Mono County,” Interim Director of Public Works Jim Arkens told the MT Thursday. “Evan Nikirk left his employment with Mono shortly after I was hired. I do not have all the details.”

Nikirk’s resignation came under former County Administrative Officer Dave Wilbrecht. Garcia’s came under Wilbrecht’s replacement, Arkens, who was appointed to the position by the board of supervisors after one year with the county as the human resources director (a position he still holds, creating significant savings for the county).

Since then, Arkens has acted as the interim director of public works since the county board of supervisors declined to fill the position.

“I am evaluating the structure and performance of all departments,” Arkens said in response to the changes in the department (not just in terms of personnel, either). “My desire is to guarantee the best possible service to the citizens at the lowest cost. I have restructured the departments, considering the resources we presently have, without adding additional staff. My goal is efficiency and performance.”

Despite the probable personnel issues within the department, Arkens has the support of at least two board of supervisors (the two the MT reached before press time).

According to District 5 Supervisor Byng Hunt, the same kind of reorganization and upheaval is occurring in the rest of the county’s departments all in an attempt to create a leaner organization that can still deliver the necessary services to county residents. The price, Hunt said, can be that some employees are simply not willing to remain in such a constantly changing environment.

“We need to come up with another $1 million a year,” he said. “Right now, we have almost depleted our reserve fund (it stands at about $1.2 million, far from the several million the county would prefer) and we have to stop that bleeding.”

His words were echoed by District 1 Supervisor Larry Johnston, who said the county supervisors hired Arkens to streamline the county departments, including reorganizing when Arkens believes it is more efficient and cost-effective, and calling on employee unions to make concessions to save money.

“We are allowing him to do what we hired him to do,” he said.