DPW Division Head Kevin M. Hanifan and the Town of Oyster Bay

Craig Mongeau

In the fall on a sideline in Uniondale, Long Island, Kevin Hanifan can be found searching for the right combination of X’s and O’s to lead the Kellenberg Memorial High School Firebirds to another victory in the Catholic Football League of Metropolitan New York.

This September, he will have been a coach there for 20 years — head coach for 13 of them.

In his day job, Kevin also can be found implementing a winning strategy for his other team, the town of Oyster Bay’s department of public works (DPW). As division head, he leads a 200-member outfit.

“I have a very busy schedule,” said Kevin. “I work 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then I leave here and get to the school at about 3:15, 3:20. And I’ll coach, watch film.”

Kevin has been Oyster Bay’s DPW leader since 2006, when the town supervisor appointed him to the position. And though he may be relatively new to the top job, Kevin is not short on experience, having worked his way through Oyster Bay’s DPW for 26 years, from laborer to leader.

One of eight children, Kevin was born and raised in Hicksville, Long Island. His father was a supervisor for the post office while his mother was a supervisor of the Hanifan clan.

After graduating from Hicksville High School, Kevin got into home construction and carpentry work. Though he liked it, there was an element to it that was missing

“I always liked equipment, but I didn’t have a lot of opportunity doing that since most of my work was with my hands,” he said. “I learned of an opportunity through word of mouth to join the highway department in Oyster Bay. They said they’d teach you how to drive trucks and operate equipment, so I went for it.”

Kevin was 20 years old when he started out with the highway department as a laborer.

He worked his way up through various positions. First, he was equipment operator, then an area foreman; up next was a yard supervisor, and then, ultimately, highway superintendent in 2006 — a span of 26 years.

Along the way, Kevin didn’t always have his sights set on being superintendent, or division head as it’s called in Oyster Bay.

“It kind of came along later on,” he said. “I thought about becoming what we call a general foreman here, which is like the highest level of operations before you’d go into administration. But I kind of went a little further [than I thought I would].”

But as Kevin worked his way through sundry positions at the DPW, he did think about how, if given the chance, he would do things differently as its division head.

“When the job was offered I definitely thought I could handle it. Right away, I’d begun thinking of the things I’d do differently and improve. You always kind of think that when you’re in a supervisory position. Prior to becoming division head, sometimes when I had discussions with administration about policy, procedure and operations, I’d think what I’d do.”

But taking over the team is always different, and there’s no playbook to help make the right call.

“It was definitely more challenging when I became division head,” he said. “We do a lot of different things and we’re a pretty decent-sized township. We have 1,600 lane miles of road, 330,000 residents and 200 staff members. In the highway department we always joke that we’re the go-to guys. The phone calls that my staff fields and what the men do on the road, you can’t find in a highway booklet. We help elderly people; we might be doing things for community youth groups or civic groups, just to make things better for them. We’re very reactionary here. People want stuff and of course they want it yesterday.”

Changes and Challenges

Upon taking over as division head, Kevin began implementing something he’d known the DPW needed for some time — cross training.

“We needed much more equipment training,” he began. “What happens sometimes with government is that you need to do more with less with the ultimate goal getting the job done. Sometimes you can lose sight of setting aside time and resources to train people properly because when the person is training, he’s generally not accomplishing a lot of work.”

Kevin noticed that people were always going to the same person for one particular job or task. “We’d have the ‘backhoe guy.’ Well, we needed more guys that could do the backhoe. I said ‘listen, we’re not going to improve as an organization unless we start helping our staff increase their skills.’”

So Kevin began a training program. “We have a pretty big yard, approximately 20 acres, where I can put a guy on a piece of equipment and he’ll have a lot of open area to work it, move material, practice loading trucks, etc., under supervision. It builds confidence and the quality of his performance picks up,” he said.

By running a makeshift CDL class Kevin prepares his laborers for the New York State motor vehicle permit test.

“Plus, I have operators who will take guys out when they have their permits for either a Class D license or tractor trailer license, and they’ll train them and they’ll drive with them. You have two men on a tractor trailer when you’re really only supposed to have one doing the job, but you’ve got to think that a guy will never get his license if he doesn’t drive a tractor trailer,” he explained.

It’s this training, he says, that will qualify them to be equipment operators, thus eliminating the one-person method of getting a job done. And there’s an ancillary benefit. “Now there’s an opportunity for advancement; it jump-starts their initiative, and it’s caused a marked change in morale. What it does is, in the winter, it gives guys opportunities to work storms and overtime because they can have a truck assigned to them. That in and of itself helps with morale.”

For any manager, vacation time can get out of hand in a hurry, especially if he has 200 staff members. Kevin set out to get a handle on it.

“I had to control vacation time, sort of putting a policy back into place,” he began. “A past superintendent used to not give out a lot of vacations during the winter months and we had gotten away from that over time with different administrations. If there’s a situation, we’ll take it on a case-by-case basis; if somebody’s having a baby or somebody got married, we work with them. We used to have where you could take vacation anytime you wanted to a certain point. But we don’t have extra guys hanging around; I have just enough people to drive our trucks, so by letting 20 guys take vacation at one time that means that I could have 20 trucks not roll, and of course, we can’t have that in the winter in a storm situation.”

Another policy that needed a comeback was uniforms

“We needed to return to a professional look,” he said. “If you have a guy who pulls up in front of a house driving a $150,000 piece of equipment and he looks like a ragamuffin, it just doesn’t project professionalism, in my opinion.”

The town board, of course, is pleased with this policy.

“They like it as do the residents because the men are identifiable. People can approach them on the street. You’re not walking up to a guy in a flannel shirt with no insignia on it.”

The Six Bureaus

Kevin oversees six bureaus within Oyster Bay’s department of public works — signs, cement, lighting, public parking, highway repair and administration.

Signs

Approximately $200,000 in operational expenses is allocated to this bureau in which 10 people work at the DPW’s central Long Island Syosset facility.

Typically, this bureau will either replace damaged signs or reset them.

“A lot of our signs are on lighting and utility poles and we have brackets and sometimes they get hit by branches or a truck will take a corner too tightly and hit them. Sometimes we can repair or remount them,” Kevin said.

The signs bureau also is responsible for pavement markings, painting the double yellow lines on the busy street or parking lot lines, for example. And like many jobs a DPW performs, line painting can be a public service venture.

“Recently, somebody wrote a letter to us about how there were not enough handicap stalls in a parking area,” Kevin said. “So we sent out an inspector and he counted them. Now there’s a formula on how many total stalls you have and how many handicap stalls you need based on that number, and we met the guidelines. But we had received other similar requests, so we decided to add a few more. If handicap spots were needed, then let’s put more in; it’s that simple. That’s what working with the community and residents is all about.”

When it comes to logos, truck decals and warning tape, etc., the sign bureau has that covered as well.

“They’ll also do decal and sign work for other departments, like the beach or recreation department. Just the other day we got a request from the bay constable, who’s part of the public safety department’s marine bureau, for us to do all of their ‘5 m.p.h.’ and ‘no waiting’ signs,” Kevin said.

The sign bureau has a big project coming down the pike at them, one that will require Kevin and his crew to determine the total number of signs for which they’re responsible.

“There’s a new federal mandate that just went into effect in January about reflectivity,” Kevin said. “There’s a seven- to 10-year window in which you’re required to change the reflectivity on most of your signs, ones with warnings such as stop signs, curves, yield and corner markers. We’re working with a vendor right now in trying to assess this. They gave us a big window, but we’re looking into the best way to handle this right now — whether we’re going to do it ourselves or contract some of it out. But of course we need to know exactly what we’re dealing with before we make that decision.”

Cement

Approximately $1 million is allocated to the cement bureau in which 11 crew members work. Most of the money spent here is for cement, trucks and material.

Crews in this bureau do sidewalk and curb work, with some of it done in-house and some performed through subcontracting. Volume of work, more than anything else, determines whether or not projects are farmed out.

“We know ahead of time that we’re going to take in so many thousands of square feet of sidewalk work,” Kevin said. “I have 11 crew members in the cement bureau and they can’t do 6,000 slabs. We’ll do the inspections and we’ll forward that over to our engineering department saying ‘here’s X amount of square footage of sidewalks and X amount of linear footage of curb work in a specific area of the town’ and they will put it out to bid.”

Basin repair and special requests keep this crew busy as well.

“Just the other day we got a request from another department because they were renovating a building so that they could turn a storage area into offices. They needed to cut through some cinder block walls for windows, so they asked our guys to do that. We’ll do any kind of masonry type work,” said Kevin.

There are no culverts in the Town of Oyster Bay because, as Kevin said, “everything is underground in positive flow pipes.” The cement crews will repair pipe, though. “Our infrastructure is at least 50 to 60 years old, so we’ll sometimes install new sections of pipe.”

Scheduling is never far from Kevin’s mind, and in this bureau he has paid close attention to ensuring that as much as possible gets done with the people he has.

“With our cement crew, I’ve worked out some scheduling where we’ve improved our retainers on our concrete, sidewalks, curbs, etc. We’ll dedicate certain Mondays to basin repair. They work 10-hour days, Tuesday through Friday, and every once in a while I’ll put them on basin repair on Mondays, so that it doesn’t slow up their sidewalk replacement and we get to address other needs,” he said.

Highway Repair

There are approximately 100 crew members in this bureau.

The town of Oyster Bay is a unique township on Long Island. It extends from the North Shore to the south shore, from the Long Island Sound to the Atlantic Ocean. That’s a lot of roadway, 1,500 lane miles to be exact. That means the DPW needs facilities strategically located throughout the town.

“I have a satellite depot on the south shore in Massapequa, and I have a main yard in the middle of the Island in Syosset,” began Kevin. “I also have two small satellites up north in Oyster Bay and Glen Head. It’s more rural on the north shore of Long Island, and there are very condensed roadways in the middle and south on the Island.

“It’s so far out of the way for us on the North Shore that I need a satellite yard there so that the guys who live up there can go right to that yard to respond to an emergency if they have to.”

The department has a six-bay garage in Oyster Bay; a three-bay garage is in Massapequa; and a two-bay garage in Glen Head. Also, there are two truck buildings and office space in Oyster Bay.

The towns and villages in Oyster Bay are Massapequa Park, Farmingdale, Cove Neck, Muttontown, Oyster Bay Cove, Laddingtown, Mill Neck, Brookville, Laurel Hollow and Bayville. Each of these little towns has their own highway department.

“We don’t do anything for the incorporated villages, but there are certain roads that travel though these towns that we’re responsible for,” Kevin said.

The highway department, in addition to patching and road repair, handles grass cutting, street sweeping and coordinating leaf pickup with sanitation, which is not under Kevin’s leadership.

“Sanitation will pick up 10 bags or fewer [of leaves] with its normal garbage pickup,” Kevin said. “Anything over 10 bags, we pick up. So we get what is called ‘overages.’ We’ll get an over-list from sanitation and pick up the bags the next day. We use sanitation packers for this and do general cleanup like with grass and so on.”

Sweeping is done over a six-month period from April 1 to Sept. 30.

“We roll about 15 sweepers at any given time. We send a schedule to every homeowner that says we’ll guarantee three sweeps per year and we’ll let them know when we’ll be on their block for those three times, usually on a Monday through Thursday. We always leave Friday open in case of rain,” said Kevin. This is done for all 1,500 lane miles in Oyster Bay.

Highway crews are responsible for cutting grass by all of the town’s sumps and recharge basins, which, Kevin said, is a big issue with people in neighborhoods.

“We really try to do grass cutting on a very regular basis — every two to two-and-a-half weeks. Nothing’s worse for the guy living next to the recharge basin and the grass is three feet high. We take a lot of pride in how often we cut grass. Nobody, NOBODY cuts the grass as often as we do around our basins,” Kevin asserted.

The highway repair division does not cut grass at parks, police stations, fire departments, or other municipal sites.

During winter, snowplowing is a department-wide endeavor — anybody who can drive a truck, whether he is in Kevin’s department or in on other town department, gets into the act.

“We reach out to other departments,” Kevin began. “Many years ago, a decision was made by the town board that if a department buys a vehicle and that vehicle can be a plow-mounted one, then it can and will be used that way. For example, our parks department has approximately 60 trucks, such as pickups, power wagons and little six-wheelers — every one of these will get a plow.

“So if I get a big snowstorm I call the parks department and I’ll get 60 trucks and drivers. Every garbage truck that we purchase for our sanitation department can be plow-mounted. So if we get a blizzard I call sanitation if I need to beef up my operation.”

Kevin’s department alone has 150 plow-mounted trucks and 47 sanding trucks. If it’s just a sanding operation, highway will handle it, but once it becomes a plow operation, Kevin calls in those other departments.

The department has two salt sheds in Syosset, two in Massapequa and two on the North Shore. Kevin’s department warehouses salt for some local villages.

“We have agreements with some smaller villages that don’t have the facilities to store their own salt. So they buy it and have it delivered here and we track it. They sign for it and take it out of our yard,” Kevin said.

Kevin uses an 80/20 salt/sand mix.

“Sometimes we’ll do straight salt depending on the situation. Right now we’re looking into some alternative treatments, some environmentally friendly methods,” he said. “We actually had a demonstration where someone came in and treated a couple hundred tons of our salt with a sugar-based treatment. Chemically, if you combine sugar with salt it lowers the freezing temperature of the salt. Salt works from about 18 to 20 degrees.

“The sugar mixture can drop it down to close to zero. Fortunately for us, we had a mild winter, but unfortunately we were never really able to fully analyze this because the only time it snowed here the temperature was high 20s to low 30s. But we’ll have to wait and see.”

Lighting

There are 14 people in this bureau, which is responsible for the street lighting for all 1,500 lane miles of road in Oyster Bay, as well as county and state roads. The only roads this bureau is not responsible for are the Long Island Expressway and the Northern State Parkway. Annual budget is approximately $400,000, just for supplies.

Lighting work involves replacing burnt out bulbs and upgrading fixtures — 21,000 of them.

Phone calls from residents usually tip off Kevin’s department when a bulb needs to be replaced. “That’s a big issue with them, if a streetlight is out. They’ll call the day or night it happens,” he said.

Kevin also has his own light patrol.

“What we do is that the night guy, if he’s alone, we’ll give him work orders to do. And then at the end of his shift, he’ll do a canvas. So if he works 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., he’ll do light repairs and bulb changes for a few hours, then he’ll take a ride on the main roads and if he finds a light out — and I don’t want the guy going up in a bucket at night — he’ll tape a piece of caution tape to the pole and writes down the address and the day crew will go out and fix it,” he said.

Helping find new ways to reduce energy costs for the town of Oyster Bay is among Kevin’s many responsibilities.

“Right now we’re at a crossroads with the technology,” he said. “We have an energy advisory committee that meets periodically to address ways of saving energy for the town. One of the main things is street lighting. I paid $1.6 million last year in street lighting bills to the lighting company. The big thing right now is LEDs, with 50 lights on a bulb. If one goes out, the other 49 will still work. The technology is there but the company that manufactures the lights is trying to incorporate them into the cobra head look.”

Public Parking

Two people work in public parking, maintaining parking permits, mostly (enforcement falls under the Nassau County police department.) One person collects money each month and repairs meters. The bureau also puts out electronic speed devices.

“We put these out as school districts and communities request them,” Kevin said. “We’ll do this periodically just to get people’s attention. The police department also will put these signs out, but it’s something we’ve gotten into because a decision was made before I became division head that since our residents sometimes ask for these, we’d get a couple of these signs and put them out ourselves. We have two now and two more coming in soon.”

Administration

Like many highway departments and departments of public works, administration handles the in-office work, such as phone calls from residents. There are approximately 16 people in this bureau, all working out of Syosset.

One area with which Kevin’s department does not get involved is vehicle maintenance; that’s taken care of by Central Vehicle Maintenance, or CVM.

“We call it a down sheet and we’ll give it to CVM. They have shops all throughout the town and they’ll do maintenance work for every department. They fix sanitation trucks, parks trucks, highway trucks, marine bureau boats and so on. When we buy equipment, we call it standardized. The parks department doesn’t buy a different dump truck from ours. If you’re buying a dump truck it’s the same dump truck. This way CVM will have parts for it,” Kevin said.

The highway department is responsible, however, for repairing its own plow parts.

Leading the Team

Kevin is responsible for 200 crew members — a challenging number to say the least. Fortunately, Kevin has three supervisors on whom he heavily relies.

Rich Buckley is yard supervisor (Kevin’s previous position); Doug Robalino is general foreman; and Joe Tricarico is assistant to the superintendent.

Rich is in charge of materials, ensuring the department has enough sand, salt, plow parts, etc. Rich has been with the department for 27 years.

Joe is involved with emergency storms and handles one of Kevin’s four regions — the south shore. Joe has been with the department for 30 years.

Doug is in charge of operations and all of the road work. He ensures that the grass crew has enough people, that the potholes are getting filled, etc. Doug has been with the department for 31 years.

Kevin and his supervisors are responsible for the coordination of snowplowing efforts. Each takes a section.

“It’s invaluable to have people like this,” Kevin said. “I can’t see everybody, everywhere, doing everything and to have guys that I know and trust is very important. They have the pulse for the men; though I’m out in the field, they’re out there more than I can be.”

Certainly one of the hardest things for Kevin, and his least favorite part of his job, is the discipline issue.

“I’m a rules guy. And I truly believe that if you know the rules of the game, you can play any game you’re in,” he said. “I think that’s what I try to get across to our guys. I tell them, ‘you knew me when I worked my way up. I followed every rule. Now that I’m in charge, I don’t expect you to break them and if you do, then a disciplinary course has to be taken.’”

But Kevin has some “young bucks” as he puts it, in the department who sometimes place him in the always uncomfortable position of having to address personnel issues.

“We were all young ourselves, and coming to work on time can sometimes be an issue or maintaining licenses can become an issue,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many times people don’t tell us they got a ticket. When you’re dealing with a couple of hundred people, things aren’t always perfect. But overall I have a very good staff.”

Helping residents can often make up for the more unappealing aspects of the job.

“Just the other day, a guy called up and said, ‘I live on a dead end street and the streetlight is not that bright. I’ve seen other neighborhoods where they’re brighter. My wife gets home from work late.’ So I said to the lighting bureau foreman, ‘go out and take a look at the light.’ And he came back and said, ‘yeah, it’s an old light that had been up for many years and it wasn’t as bright as it should have been.’ So we changed it; we went from a 55 watt to a 70 watt bulb. He calls up the next day and says. ‘I can’t believe you guys just did that.’ We changed a light bulb; that’s all we did, but the guy was really happy, and that makes everything worth it,” he said.

And yes, just as some residents make it a point to thank Kevin’s department when they do their job, so are some residents quick with a complaint, sometimes seemingly just for the sake of complaining. But Kevin’s been around long enough to keep that in perspective.

“You have to realize that that’s the job,” he said. And I’ll admit, sometimes it’s not easy. You’ll get people who will tell you stories that aren’t accurate about a situation, or personnel. And they’re just doing that to get what they want, when they want it and why they want it. And they don’t care about the 329,999 other residents. My direction from the town board and the town supervisor is that we try to make them happy. And if you can accomplish that without breaking a rule or policy, then we’ll do it as best we can.

“A good portion of my day is on the phone with residents and I don’t tell them that it’s not our job and so on; when we tell you we’re going to look into it, we do it. We’ll leave calling cards in a resident’s mailbox, if they’re not there, to let them know we were there to respond to their call. We don’t say that it isn’t in our jurisdiction or county, but we will say that we’ll pass it on for you.”

When Kevin is not on the job or coaching his football team, he likes to work on his house. “I’ve renovated every room in the house. It takes me back to my old days when I did carpentry and construction. I just did my kitchen over the past few months so my wife is happy.”

Kevin and his wife, Stacy, have been married for almost 25 years. They have two daughters, Megan, 18, and Emily, 15. Megan will be attending the University of Maryland, majoring in engineering. Emily plays lacrosse in high school.

Retirement is not in Kevin’s foreseeable future. “I’m only 49, and I have a minimum of six years before I can even think about retirement, but with two children going off to college, I don’t how a retirement plan would work out.”

So Kevin plans on happily staying with the public works department, continuing to help improve the quality of life for his residents.

As Kevin puts it, “I’m here until they don’t want me anymore.”

About the Town of Oyster Bay

The town of Oyster Bay enjoys a rich and well-documented history.

The first known European to sail past Long Island’s south shore was Giovanni de Verrazano in 1524. David deVries was the first to record the name of Oyster Bay for the beautiful harbor on the town’s North Shore in 1639.

Long Island was first claimed by the Dutch as part of their province of New Netherland. In 1639, they purchased from the Native Americans a tract, which, on the east, included the present town land. In 1648, Robert Williams of Hempstead bought from the Native Americans a large parcel of land, which is represented today by Hicksville and adjacent parts of Jericho, Plainview, Syosset and Woodbury.

Five years later, the Native American Chief Mohannes sold the land in the northern portion of Oyster Bay, extending from Long Island Sound to a point near Hicksville, to New Englanders Samuel Mayo, Peter Wright and William Leverich. Several other colonists joined in this First Purchase and settled on the land.

In founding the town, the New Englanders were seeking new opportunities on Long Island just east of the boundary established between the English and Dutch. In 1667, three years after the English won New Netherland, the town of Oyster Bay, inclusive of land to the “Soth Sea” (Great South Bay), was granted a patent by the English Governor, Sir Edmund Andros.

After the defeat of the American Army at the Battle of Long Island in August 1776, Oyster Bay fell under British occupation. The Revolutionary War found Long Island strongly Loyalist. British troops used Raynham Hall as their headquarters, the hall being the home of patriot Samuel Townsend and currently a museum. Despite the fact that he was arrested early in the war for his support of the patriots, his son, Robert, remained active as an undercover agent for General Washington using the code name, “Culper Jr.” With the aid of his sister, Sally, he reportedly secured information that led to the exposure of Benedict Arnold’s plot to defect to the British and turn over West Point to their control.

After the Revolution, Oyster Bay continued primarily as an agricultural area through the 19th century. It didn’t come into national prominence again until the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, an Oyster Bay resident whose home, Sagamore Hill, served as the “summer White House” from 1902 to 1908. This huge Victorian mansion, with its original furnishings, was dedicated as a national shrine during the administration of President Eisenhower. It has since been completely restored and is open to the public.

With the advent of World Wars I and II, the town’s primarily agricultural economy began changing to one of industry and business, especially in the area of aeronautics. Farmlands gave way to business complexes, factories and new housing. Today, Oyster Bay enjoys a well-balanced blend of commercial, residential and recreational development, leading to the town’s slogan that “Oyster Bay is a great place to live, work and play.”

(Information for “About the Town of Oyster Bay” was taken from the town’s Web site at www.oysterbaytown.com.) P

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