Newly appointed Louisville Public Works Director Vanessa Burns says improving employee morale will be an important first step in the department, and that being an outsider will give her a better opportunity to implement changes.
In August former Public Works Director Ted Pullen resigned while facing a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit. Burns is coming to Louisville from Connecticut, and has served at public works departments in Washington, D.C. and Evanston, Illinois.
She says making the department more efficient is a top priority, but that relations between employees and managers is just as vital.
“We all have got to work on tweaking and trying to improve what we do and how we do it,” Burns said. “And I think one of the good things about not being here is I can look at it with open eyes.”
An audit conducted last summer found there was mistrust between public works employees and management. It emphasized that the city should begin shuffling managers to help improve efficiency and city services.
The report also highlighted that management should do a better job of communicating its expectations and performance results to employees, while emphasizing productivity over punishments. Union leaders had praised the audit for pushing those issues to the forefront.
Public Works has an $89 million budget, nearly 800 employees and a fleet of 2,600 vehicles, which makes it the second largest city department behind Metro Police. It also deals with road construction, snow removal and city recycling.
Burns said Public Works is one of the most important functions of a city and she wants the department to move forward, adding that reaching out to all workers will help make services more efficient.
“I think it’s very important to say I have nothing to do with Mr. Pullen,” Burns said. “And it’s my intention to know all of my people from the tippers to the engineers, and facility managers. It’s important. I think they’re all going to be very surprised. I have no children and to be quite frank the Public Works department is essentially my child.”
Burns will earn $100,000 a year and begins in January.