Published in the March 24, 2016 edition


NORTH READING — The first full day of spring brought about five inches of snow and a challenge for North Reading’s Department of Public Works, currently short–handed following the resignations of nine employees in the last two weeks as a result of investigations into alleged opioid abuse.

The fast–moving storm starting dropping heavy, wet snow around 1 a.m. and was going full blast by the Monday morning rush hour, requiring a full plowing operation, which the remaining DPW employees handled with the help of contracted services.

North Reading schools opened on time, much to the dismay of local children who were probably hoping for one last snow day. 

As has been previously reported, a total of nine DPW employees have resigned as a result of charges that some workers illegally purchased prescription painkillers (opioids). That number includes former DPW Directer Richard Carnevale who was not implicated in the investigation but resigned because the events happened on his watch. A tenth employee remains on administrative leave.

The arrival of an ill–timed spring snowstorm coming so soon after the resignations could have been disastrous, except for a couple of factors: The storm was not as intense as some had predicted and the remaining DPW workers stepped up and did their jobs well, according to Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto.

“The remaining staff at the DPW, in particular acting general foreman Chris Deming and acting director Mike Soraghan put in significant planning for the spring snowstorm starting as early as last Wednesday,” Gilleberto said. 

The department was prepared to handle the storm despite the fluctuating forecast, he added.

For a normal storm, the town runs about 18 plows using town staff, the TA stated. Right now there are eight “direct service” vacancies, leaving 10 employees to operate the town equipment. The town also operates six salting and sanding routes with town equipment and town employees, so there was less concern about the salting/sanding operations, he said.

The town arranged a variety of resources to pick up the slack for the eight employees who would normally be plowing. These included up to three seasonal employees to drive town trucks and commitments from Lynnfield and Reading to provide one plow each if needed.

There were also up to 42 contracted pieces of equipment lined up to plow if necessary.

In the end, North Reading did not need to call in either Lynnfield or Reading and made up the difference using contracted services, Gilleberto said.

“Our employees put in tremendous effort to prepare for and execute the response to this storm. This is evidence of the good work all of our town employees do,” said Gilleberto.

Regarding the administrative and criminal investigations, Gilleberto said there has been no change since last week. The tenth employee remains on paid administrative leave, which the TA said gives the town time to resolve the the allegation one way or another. 

Administrative leave provides the town its opportunity to conduct its administrative investigation relative to any allegations, he said.