Your Government: Engineer Fujimoto outlines county challenges

LIHU‘E — A meeting Friday between the Jerome “The Shadow” Freitas, County Engineer Donald Fujimoto and county Department of Public Works management leader Ed Renaud turned out to be more than a session in which government leaders promised a citizen to fix broken or old government structures or fixtures.

The meeting in Fujimoto’s office at the Lihu‘e Civic Center Mo‘ikeha Building also revealed challenges Fujimoto faces in leading the county’s largest department, comprising 400 employees.

The meeting also revealed the type of patience Fujimoto has and uses in trying to meet the demands of two bosses, Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste, and tens of thousands of Kaua‘i residents, including Freitas.

Freitas has cast himself as “The Shadow” because he drives around the island looking for unsafe government structures and fixtures. He then bangs on the doors of government agencies to make the fix.

Freitas has repeatedly call Fujimoto about the need to replace playground equipment at county parks, to replace old bridges, shore up roads with eroded banks, cut away overgrowth from roads, and clear roadway drainage structures to prevent flooding, all in the name of public safety.

Although Fujimoto is equally sensitive to the need to keep county structures and fixtures in tip-top shape in the name of public safety, Freitas says the delays that occur are inexcusable, and called for Friday’s meeting for answers.

Fujimoto and Renaud, the superintendent of the DPW Division of Road Construction & Maintenance, said they have a schedule to monitor, to maintain and repair all county structures and fixtures.

But that schedule was upset by near-persistent rains during February and March that created flood conditions and damage the county is still recovering from today, Renaud said.

Renaud leads a team consisting of three district managers, two operations supervisors, and another DPW supervisor.

Those team members supervise members of DPW crews who, for instance, cut tress, fixes potholes, maintain buildings, clear drainage systems, and perform scores of other tasks.

“There was eight weeks of rain,” said Fujimoto in explaining his department’s delays in addressing Freitas’s concerns and concerns of other residents.

“And we aren’t designed for 24 hours of operations. We had additional mudslides, clearing of drains. We are trying to catch up and get back on track.” Fujimoto ticked off the top of his head some of the challenges he and his department faced in recent months:

• The washing out of a Moloa‘a bridge, and the recent replacement of the bridge by members of crews from the Kapa‘a and Hanalei county baseyards. They were assisted by county carpenters. Fixing the bridge was a top priority of members of Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste’s administration. At least 12 families were initially stranded when the original bridge washed away due to flooding;

• Flooding along Kamalu Road, a key secondary road in Wailua Homesteads;

• Mudslide by the Kalihiwai bridge on Kuhio Highway.

In responding to queries by Freitas, Fujimoto and Renaud said the county has plans to install, in short order, new playground equipment at Puhi Park, and at Wiliko Park in Hanama‘ulu.

Fujimoto said new playground equipment also is slated to be put at parks in Anahola, ‘Ele‘ele and Kekaha.

Fujimoto challenged Freitas to help find damaged county equipment, offering to give him orange paint and orange tape to mark such structures.

Fujimoto and Renaud told Freitas that they would tell park caretakers to let Freitas go about his business.

Fujimoto said he faces many other challenges in running DPW.

Among the key ones:

• Unlike in the past, supervisors don’t automatically command the respect of today’s young worker, and this situation creates workplace problems. Fujimoto and Renaud said they are training their supervisors to build better lines of communication with their workers. “I ask the supervisors to ask their employees two questions.” Fujimoto said. “One is, ‘What do you enjoy about your job?’” and two, ‘What do you not enjoy about your job?’” Fujimoto said the challenge of every supervisor “is to make work challenging but not overwhelming, not boring.” Finding out how workers think about their jobs is important to him, Fujimoto said. “What I have found is that most people enjoy their jobs because they are challenging and different (from day to day or from week to week),” Fujimoto said. What do workers not like about their job? “What they don’t like is different management styles,” Fujimoto said. But that situation is a given because of the different personalities and management styles of DPW supervisors, he said. Fujimoto said, if possible, he wants a happy workforce, and that should translate into better teamwork out in the field, better coordination of the work, and boosted productivity. For the most part, Fujimoto and Renaud said they like the quality of the people who work in DPW. “We do have lot of good workers. I am proud of them,” Fujimoto said. “They have the dedication and they have the skills.” At the same time, Fujimoto acknowledged, there are bad employees “who will spoil the whole barrel (if not dealt with). Overall, we are moving in the right direction,” Fujimoto said. “We need teamwork and more accountability;”

• He wants members of DPW crews to operate with more efficiency, finishing up with tasks at hand on time, and being prepared to jump into the next project.

“I would like our department to operate like the fire department,” he said. “The whole idea is to have everything done so we are ready for the next thing.”

• Due to lack of funds, not having enough caretakers to maintain county parks, which are used frequently by residents and visitors alike, is a constant concern, he said. In a lot of cases, caretakers are taken from their assigned parks to work on other parks, Fujimoto said.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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