BY PAULA MINAERT — The Hyattsville City Council discussed a plan at its January 3 meeting to reorganize the way the city staff operates.

Presented by Communications Manager Abby Sandel, the plan suggested creating a new Department of Community Services. It would include various departments and functions that are currently separate, such as volunteer services, parks and recreation, events coordination, and telecommunications work.

Sandel has also been acting director of parks and recreation since the position became vacant last summer. She told the council that after “six months of wearing two hats,” she found “a high degree of overlap between those roles.”

In the nearly three years she’s been here, she added, she’s observed “a number of small functions that work very closely together but that don’t have a formal working relationship. We’ve all been independently directly reporting to the city administrator.”

She said the current staff vacancies create “a good opportunity to look at the structure of the organization and see if there is a benefit to looking at a bigger umbrella to organize some of these functions.”

Councilmember Eric Wingard (Ward 1) said the reorganization is long overdue and that the proposal is “a good starting point for discussion.”

“A couple of the things that I liked about [it] were that it would give the City depth, which it is very much lacking, and it would bring together a few departments that operationally would make sense to be under the same head.”

Councilmember Paula Perry (Ward 4) said she thought the proposed department was too large and all the parts wouldn’t mesh well together, but added, “It’s only the beginning of the conversation [about reorganizing]. I want to hear other council members’ ideas, because we have a lot of talent here.”

Reorganizing the staff is not a new idea. Mayor Marc Tartaro said TATC, a consultant with the city, did an efficiency study three or four years ago and made about 50 recommendations.

“We have a number of functions where we need to look at where people report and how they interact with each other. We can’t have everyone reporting to the city administrator. There’s a tendency to have silos in organizations, where information runs up and down vertically and isn’t shared horizontally. If people were communicating horizontally, there’d be a lot of power in that.”

He said Sandel’s plan is an illustration of that.

“Where we end up may be different, but there’s a great deal of value in what she’s thought about.”

The city has faced a lot of staff turnover in the last few years. But there is progress. The search committee for hiring a human resources director – a task at the top of many council members’ priority list – has finished the first round of interviews and will soon start a second. Tartaro said he hopes the committee will present a recommendation to the council by the end of January.

On the search committee are Tartaro, Perry, Councilmember Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1), City Treasurer Elaine Stookey, Acting City Administrator Douglas Holland and former Ward 2 council member Bill Tierney.

Hollingsworth said that the new hire would “fill some of the gaps we have from the turnover and maybe revisit our organizational structure as a whole. ”

“I think we do have staffing challenges, not in the type of person in the positions or the positions themselves but because we’re a growing city that has a wide array of residents requiring a wide array of services.”