Butte-Silver Bow commissioners have confirmed Mark Neary as the county’s permanent director of Public Works and OK’d Chief Executive Dave Palmer’s plan to form a separate division to handle engineering duties.
Several people, including county workers and a private contractor, said Wednesday night that Neary has been great for morale and was qualified to oversee the county’s largest department even though he's not an engineer.
Palmer says Neary has worked in road construction for years, including time with Bill Hollow and other contractors in Butte, and was a construction equipment operator for the county before taking on interim director duties in June.
But the county is now without a certified professional engineer to serve in Palmer's newly created engineering division because Matt Moore resigned Wednesday to take a private job. Moore had overseen the county’s sewer system, among other things.
Palmer said late Wednesday that he would seek a professional engineer to take Moore’s place, but there was still an engineer on board who was only a test away from getting his professional engineering license as well as two “engineering technicians” who had associate degrees.
The department has been without a permanent director since late May, when Dave Schultz, who was a professional engineer, stepped down after four years to pursue private consulting work.
Several commissioners said previously they wanted another professional engineer at the helm of the county’s largest department by money and manpower measurements.
It’s a distinction that generally requires a four-year college degree in engineering, four years of work under a professional engineer, and passing a state professional engineer's exam.
The public works director here oversees 126 county employees and directs several divisions, including road, sewer, water, landfill, transit, and central equipment and maintenance. The department's budget is typically $30 million a year.
Palmer had acknowledged commissioners’ wishes for a professional engineer and, after a lengthy search, had offered the job to a city engineer in Idaho who initially accepted the post in August but backed out at the last minute.
Since then, Palmer has backed Neary and met individually with some commissioners to tout his plan for creating an engineering division. Neary got support from others Wednesday night.
Several people, including private contractor Jay Fortune and Parks Director J.P. Gallagher, told commissioners that Neary was not only knowledgeable and qualified to oversee the department, he was well liked and got along with everyone.
“He has really made a difference in morale,” said Gallagher, whose department is technically part of Public Works.
Fortune, whose company is often hired for county projects, said Neary was up to the job.
“Mark understands construction,” Fortune said. “Mark understands how to save money during construction.”
Commissioner Jim Fisher, chairman of the council’s Public Works Committee, agreed with those sentiments and said Neary had handled the transition from previous duties to interim director well.
He also said the county at times “over engineers things” with people who “never get their hands dirty.”
Commissioners John Sorich and John Morgan said they had nothing against Neary but voted against the appointment because they still felt a professional engineer should be at the helm.
Morgan said many cities in Montana have engineers overseeing their public works departments, and there are reasons for that.
“In my travels as a commissioner for the last 10 years, I see that position as requiring a different skill set than what was proposed last night,” Morgan told The Montana Standard on Thursday.