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.
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.