By Alex Bridges
A top Strasburg official quit suddenly last week, prompting staffing changes in several town agencies.
Mark Gundersen resigned as the director of the Department of Public Works on Friday effective immediately, Town Manager Judson Rex said Wednesday. Jay McKinley, formerly the chief operator of the town's wastewater plant, has taken over the department duties.
"That was kind of sudden for us and really gave me the opportunity to look at the position in the context of our other utility departments -- water, wastewater and public works," Rex said.
Gundersen had worked in that position since the summer of 2012. Rex wouldn't say why Gundersen resigned.
"Unfortunately, since it's a personnel matter I am unable to comment on that," Rex said. "It was a sudden thing that happened and we're kind of looking at it as an opportunity to make some changes and reorganize those three departments. I think we'll be better off for that."
Rex contacted Town Council members Friday and informed them about Gundersen's resignation and steps he took in response to the situation. Councilman Rich Orndorff Jr. chairs the personnel and finance committee.
"It was rather sudden," Orndorff said Wednesday. "It wasn't something we were expecting or at least not to my knowledge."
Orndorff and Mayor Timothy Taylor said they supported Rex and his decisions related to Gundersen's departure. Orndorff said he was excited that McKinley has moved into the director position.
"I'm sorry to see Mark go," Orndorff said, noting that Gundersen had not worked for the town that long.
Orndorff pointed out that Gundersen's departure comes at a time when the town is involved in some major, public works-related projects. But recently the town had to vacate the department's building for safety reasons. Orndorff noted that this "was an overwhelming discovery."
As Rex explained, the town had separate departments for its public works, wastewater and water treatment.
"Those three departments really share quite a bit in common," Rex said. "They maintain the same infrastructure and a lot of the materials that they use."
The town administration has since made the Department of Public Works the umbrella agency that covers the wastewater and water treatment plants, as well as the duties of the former public works department such as streets and utilities and maintenance and inspections. Jay McKinley, chief operator of the Wastewater Treatment Plant, has assumed the role of director for the Department of Public Works. Rex noted that this is the tentative name of the department.
"I think it's a good move," Rex said.
He and other town officials had been considering for a while the idea of putting all three departments under one overarching agency.
"I think with Mark leaving that really, in my mind, triggered the opportunity to take advantage of the situation and make it happen now," Rex said.
The town manager had planned earlier this week to give council a first look at his proposed 2015 budget. However, town officials are revisiting that spending plan since Gundersen's exit in the coming weeks until Rex presents the budget.
The town manager noted that McKinley has been working on the wastewater plant upgrade project and would continue to oversee that initiative.
"This really benefits all three departments and brings them all together," Rex said. "They've worked together well in the past."
McKinley has promoted within his department Gabe Ritenour to assume the wastewater plant operator position. Ritenour had been overseeing some parts of the upgrade project already. Longtime town workers Chuck Mohr and Ray Heishman remain in their positions as superintendents for utilities and streets, and maintenance and inspections.
Rex said since Friday he has reached out to other town managers for suggestions on how their localities treat public works as a department.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org