Interview #98: Newport, OR Public Works Director Tim Gross (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Tim Gross is the first public works director to appear on the program! We spoke about how he prepares the councilors to decide on technical issues and what he learned as an actor that applies to the meetings.

Q: How do you feel about the fact that you have to sit at the dais with your councilors during every meeting?

A: Well, there’s a lot of business that takes place at a council meeting that is not public works-related. I wish that I was at the beginning of the meeting instead of at the end [laughs].

Q: What do you do when you’re sitting through that copious downtime?

A: The council meetings honestly are the longest period of uninterrupted time I have for doing work that I have otherwise not had the time to do. It’s a great opportunity for me to get some correspondence done. I’ll keep an ear out for what’s happening in the meeting.

Q: So a public council meeting for you is a better work environment than your actual work environment?

A: Yes, absolutely!

Q: You obviously have a specialized field of knowledge. How frustrated do you get when there is a technical concept that they are voting on and they don’t seem to be getting it?

A: I’m gonna actually turn that on ear a little bit. More often what I get is people coming in from the public who have a solution to whatever problem they’ve identified. It’s not necessarily a good solution. It’s my opportunity and responsibility to–I hate to say the word “educate”–educate the council on how public works operates. I usually make sure that I don’t necessarily get in a battle of wits with somebody who comes into the council chambers.

Timothy Gross PE
Newport, OR Public Works Director Tim Gross

Q: Tim, I’m surprised you don’t like to engage in battles of the wits because is it true that you once acted in “Schoolhouse Rock Live!?”

A: [laughs] Yes, that’s one of the shows I’ve been in. I was the teacher in that musical.

Q: Did you learn anything from working with children that was beneficial to you in the city council meetings?

A: I mean, a city is made up of people. What I like about acting in musicals is you’re working with a bunch of people from a huge variety of backgrounds. I enjoy that.

Q: Most of the meeting is not, unfortunately, public works-related. Because you are a department head–because you are sitting at the dais with everyone else–if there is an issue before council, do you automatically feel that it’s partly your responsibility? Or do you think, “good luck with that, but it’s not really my area?”

A: I have a motto: “if I have the ability, I have the responsibility.” If the council doesn’t get back on point and discuss the issue at hand, it’s my responsibility to be able to make sure they are factual in what they’re deciding. Sometimes they just figure it out on their own.

Q: One time a county commissioner candidate came into a meeting and complained about how the commissioners specialize on issues and aren’t able to speak to everything. Does that happen with the Newport council?

A: It depends. To have everybody do everything is not possible. The candidate was pretty spot-on in that the county commission, because there’s only three of them, have become very specialized. Oftentimes the other commissioners won’t comment at all on some of the special interests. But I have not seen that with the city council.

#24: Newport, TN 6/2/16

If your underbritches feel bunched, y’all are in good company. At the Newport city council meeting, the People’s Business was as sticky as maple syrup on flypaper.

“I wanna bring everybody up to speed on the situation with the animal shelter,” city administrator James Finchum announced from somewhere behind his extensive mustache.  “They promised they would get us our money. As of today, we’ve received $10,000.”

The bad news: “They still owe us about $60,000.” All right, fellers: time to shake down them dogs and cats! Milk bones and kitty litter gotta be worth something!

“Nobody at the city wants to close that animal shelter,” kindly old Vice Mayor Mike Proffitt warbled. “That’s the furthest thing from our mind.”

One councilman murmured, “Don’t they have some $90,000 in repairs?”

“I’ve never heard that figure,” Finchum recoiled, no doubt contemplating all the gold-plated food dishes 90 grand could buy. “The roof definitely needs repairs.”

At this point, a man in a lime-green Polo stood up–apparently Newport’s roof guru. “When the heat rises and it hits the tin [roof], it causes the metal to sweat and it rains in your attic. Then it ends up in the electrical lights.” Some tar paper would fix the problem, he added. (Again, am I the only one who sees the value of super absorbent kitty litter?!)

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“The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout. Down came the rain-“

Speaking of snafus, the city attorney had some unwelcome news about 318 White Oak Avenue. There were no other bidding parties at the tax sale.” He tossed up his arms. “Consequently, YOU have ended up with the property.”

Vice Mayor Proffitt immediately complained. “Everything I’ve heard from everybody says, ‘get rid of this! If you get anything, beats nothing, ’cause you’re gonna be holding onto it.'”

Taking the advice of the man with “profit” in his name, the council voted to sell.

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“Get off my lawn!” -this man, to the taxpayers

During citizen comment, Carla had some things to say for the good of the city: “We are hosting a motorcycle fundraiser that will start at the Tanner Building. We’re calling it ‘Kickstands Up for Preservation’,” she announced.

“Maurice, I’ll borrow your motorcycle!” the mayor ribbed the police chief.

Second: “I had asked the council about supporting my transportation program,” Carla gently backed into her sales pitch. “I am still looking for funds for that program other places…but if you could help in any way, I’d appreciate it.”

“How much are you needing for that?” one alderman inquired.

$2,500, she deadpanned.

There was a pause. Vice Mayor Proffitt let her down gently. “I know it’s frustrating to you, but I appreciate what you’re trying to do.” Oh, well. Maybe once the animal shelter pays them back, Carla.

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Carla: “Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?”

Speaking of appreciation, the vice mayor had another uniquely Newportian thank-you to dole out. “Lisa, I’d like to thank you for being up there the other night when the folks [were] gettin’ dog-bit,” he drawled. “And the neighbors tell you ‘they won’t bite you’…and blood’s running down both legs. But I appreciate you being up there at the time to defuse that situation.”

Woof! Methinks they need to get that animal shelter squared away, stat!

Final thoughts: If you ever watch a Tennessee city council meeting, be sure you have a translator. Their accent is thicker than gravy on a biscuit. I give this meeting 7 out of 10 vicious dog bites.