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Kalinowski leaves DPW director job

Southbridge farewell at end of August

Ken Kalinowski. (click for larger version)
July 25, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — With a host of key projects in progress, it's probably not the best time for Southbridge to be replacing its DPW director. But it will have to, since Ken Kalinowski told Town Manager Christopher Clark he's leaving at the end of August.

That, at least, is the word from Council Chairman Steven Lazo on Friday.

"Apparently, he's taken another job closer to home" in Lunenburg, Lazo said. "I'm sorry to see him go. I think he's done an excellent job and had this town at heart. … He proved himself to me over and over."

Lazo said the town would have to find an interim and start advertising for Kalinowski's replacement soon, and he hopes to complete the hiring process by early December.

Despite Lazo's interest in an interim, Clark said he is not sure yet how he will approach the issue. The charter places such a decision in the manager's hands and requires him to act as DPW director if one is absent — something Clark said he has done for short periods, "but I don't relish doing."

At first, he said, he wants to talk to Kalinowski and DPW staff to "lay out what I think is in the best interests of the organization" and better determine Kalinowski's reasons for leaving. Noting one factor in job satisfaction is often the "work culture," Clark added, "I do kind of wonder how the outside politics plays in his decision."

Kalinowski started in the spring of 2008, replacing longtime director Hamer Clarke. News of his pending departure surprised everyone the Southbridge Evening News spoke to Friday, including Clarke himself. Several of them noted his successor would have a lot on his or her plate.

"There's a lot out there, and I don't know what the personnel situation [to get them done] is," Clarke said, citing the middle/high school project, upgrades at the water and sewer plants, downtown redevelopment and the access road project. "… The whole thing about public works is that you beat your head against the wall a lot, and the only pleasure you get is when you stop doing that."

Planning Board Chairman Paul St. Jean agreed, noting Kalinowski probably got "more than he bargained for" when he took this job.

"No way" was St. Jean's initial reaction when reached on vacation in Florida. "He's definitely very capable at his job. All the reports we asked him to provide for subdivisions and such, he scoured them as he should have."

Given the workload the DPW has, St. Jean said the town should look into getting Kalinowski's replacement at least one more engineer, but he didn't expect to see that happen for budgetary reasons.

Michael Loin of Bertin Engineering, who has worked with Kalinowski on several of those projects, agreed, suggesting the job might even be better divided into a town engineer's post and a DPW administrator. Among other things, he noted the engineering experience (which Kalinowski has) has been especially helpful with the projects Clarke cited, plus the Charlton water project, utility issues and the DPW cleanup. Loin also said some experience in alternative energy would be really useful going forward, but predicted that would be hard to find because it's so new.

"It's very disappointing. Ken was always fair and followed the regulations," Loin said of Kalinowski's departure. "He's always upfront with you, and if you had a question, he's always available. He always had the knowledge to push things forward."

Clark, the town manager, noted the charter requires the director to be both an engineer and administrator, and "it's difficult to find someone who is both." But he noted he is "not tempted to explore [splitting those jobs] at this point."

"He has done an outstanding job with the various projects ... and many people don't see how much he's done," Clark said. "I really commend him for his service, dedication and professionalism."

Councilor Conrad Vandal, chairman of the DPW Subcommittee, noted Kalinowski will be hard to replace, but he intends to insist on finding someone with "the same kinds of qualities. Why would we go any less?"

"Ken was an asset to this town," Vandal said. "He's got tremendously big shoes to fill; he's bigger than big. That guy was a gem for Southbridge."

Kalinowski himself could not be reached for comment before press time.

Gus Steeves can be reached at (508) 909-4135, or by e-mail at gsteeves@stonebridgepress.com.

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