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City’s new public works director settles in
Chal Martin took over as Bremerton’s public works director June 1 and, in many ways, is still figuring out the lay of the land.
“I’m not really managing here yet, just learning,” he said this week in his sixth-floor office at city hall. “I’m gonna be learning for the next 10 years and hope to be learning until the day I retire out of here. That’s my philosophy, everyday there’s something new.”
Martin’s long-term outlook is reassuring in many ways, especially in light of the fact that he is Mayor Patty Lent’s fourth public works director since she fired Phil Williams in 2010. Martin’s immediate predecessor, Katy Allen, left Bremerton to take a city administrator position in Liberty Lake.
Martin comes to Bremerton after most recently serving as the public works director in Burlington. Prior to that he worked for Skagit and Benton counties. Martin currently has a condo in downtown Bremerton, but commutes to his Mount Vernon home on weekends. He says the current arrangement is only temporary, but unsatisfactory, especially since it cuts down on his time to catch up on an enormous amount of reading.
“It is definitely a time crunch challenge, but I just do the best i can with the time I have,” he said.
Martin attended the United States Air Force Academy and spent 15 years in the service, leaving as a major.
“They used to call me major disaster,” he said. “I’m just kidding. It’s been a long time, that was back in ‘94 when I got out of the Air Force. I’ve been out longer than I was in and active duty.”
While in the Air Force, Martin worked in engineering, base maintenance and construction, weapons system bed downs and other areas and called his time in the service a good learning experience. He is a licensed engineer in Washington, Colorado and Alaska.
Martin is still getting up to speed, but noted that one of his primary focuses is on what his department will look like moving forward.
“My initial thinking in looking at how the public works department impacts the entire city, is that if we lose staff in the department through attrition, we need to do everything we can to restructure our processes so that we can still operate with the people we have left. Times are still hard enough and the outlook for the city is uncertain enough, that we need to work hard to stay as lean as we can.”
In the meantime, though, Martin is figuring out how things work right now.
“I think that’s really my primary and initial focuses, is to try and learn those process,” he said. “That issue is made more difficult just because I am a new guy and don’t fully understand all of the city’s internal processes yet.”
Martin said that prior to his arrival, “the city’s done well and made some hard decisions” in difficult times. He notes that the city had 370 employees in 2009 and now has an authorized total of 313 employees, though it’s probably less than 300 actual employees because of vacancies. The total number of employees in public works right now is 103, Martin said.
“That may not seem too important to a lot of people when they’re looking at it and they know cities everywhere are losing people, but that’s significant change in the way that the city’s utilities and public works department operate,” Martin said.
Martin said that Bremerton is in the fortunate position of running its own water, sewer and stormwater utilities.
“If you can maintain competitive rates, maintain facilities adequately and provide revenue for the rest of the city and its citizens, that’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s a good thing that the city owns and runs it’s own utilities, from my perspective, but of course I’m a public works guy.”
Martin says that he really likes Bremerton and while leaving his office earlier this week he took a moment to marvel at the view from atop the Norm Dicks Government Center. Martin is an avid jogger and was on his way for a run that evening around Olympic College. He says it’s just one of the many ways he is getting to know the city and its streets, neighborhoods and parks.
“The parks are beautiful,” he said. “I’m just astounded at how well the parks are maintained by our parks staff.”