Published July 12, 2019
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — The city’s DPW director was interviewed this week for an opening as water superintendent by the The Lynnfield Center Water District (LCWD) Board of Water Commissioners.
Melrose DPW Director John Scenna, a Lynnfield resident, and Danvers DPW Vernon C. Russell Treatment Plant Manager Jason McCarthy are the two finalists vying to succeed retired LCWD Superintendent Ken Burnham, who retired from the post in January after leading the district for 45 years. Five candidates applied for the job and a search committee led by Water Commissioner Joe Maney recommended that the commissioners interview Scenna and McCarthy for the vacant position.
The Lynnfield Center Water District provides water to about half the town; that water comes from wells. The MWRA provides water to South Lynnfield.
The LCWD commissioners on Monday asked the two candidates about their background, experience and a variety of technical questions.
Scenna, who lives on Sagamore Road, was the first candidate interviewed by the water commissioners. He has worked for Melrose’s DPW for almost 22 years. He noted that the Melrose DPW oversees the city’s Water Department.
“I am here because I am ready to start a new chapter in my career,” said Scenna.
Scenna has lived in town for the past 13 years, and said his family has experienced discolored water issues at their home. The LCWD has attributed iron and manganese to the discolored water problems that have plagued a number of residents near the North Reading line.
“I am very familiar with the water issues of quality and quantity,” said Scenna. “In order to solve the problem, the district is going to have to dive into these neighborhoods firsthand. We have to reach out to people and help them understand that we are here to help and are here to solve a problem.”
In response to a question from Water Commissioner Andy Youngren, Scenna said Melrose’s water comes from the MWRA.
“We are responsible for distribution and we take weekly samples,” said Scenna. “We follow all sampling procedures and all of our samples go to MWRA’s lab in Chelsea. Our water quality reports are created by the MWRA, but we provide them with the data. We work very closely with the MWRA.”
Water Commissioners Chairman Rob Almy asked Scenna if he has crafted policies and procedures as Melrose’s DPW director.
Scenna said he has created policies and procedures for the department. He has also helped negotiate contracts with DPW employees.
“I am very comfortable writing contracts and writing policies,” said Scenna.
Maney inquired if Scenna has set water and sewer rates in the city.
Scenna said water and sewer rates are a “delicate subject.” He has worked with city officials to help set water and sewer rates, which get approved by the Board of Aldermen during a public meeting.
“We have tried to be as transparent as possible with our customer base,” said Scenna. “We try to tell them there are various ingredients that go into the rate. Melrose used to have a flat rate for commercial and residential. We switched to a block rate system, where the more you use, the more you pay. That helps from a conservation perspective.”
In response to a question from Water Commissioners Chairman Rob Almy, Scenna said he has worked to upgrade the city’s infrastructure including replacing old water meters with new ones that can be accessed remotely.
“That has paid huge dividends operationally and administratively,” said Scenna.
Scenna noted the LCWD is undertaking a water supply study that ratepayers approved at a Special District Meeting last December. He said he is “open” to either having the district continue to provide well water to ratepayers or switching to the MWRA.
“We need the data to drive our decisions,” said Scenna.
Maney asked Scenna about his leadership style.
Scenna said he holds himself to “high standards.” He said the LCWD’s employees are doing “a tremendous job,” and said he would work to help them improve as employees and will hold them accountable if they are not doing their jobs.
“I don’t like to coach from the press box,” said Scenna. “I am right there on the sideline and in the trenches. I will be visible and accountable, and I will provide (the employees) with the resources they need to do their jobs.”
Vernon C. Russell Treatment Plant Manager Jason McCarthy said he has worked for Danvers’ DPW for the past eight years. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1990-1994. He said the LCWD superintendent position is a good opportunity for him to “move forward” professionally.
McCarthy compared public water supplies to “a wall made of several blocks” that consists of the water supply system, the staff managing the system, administrators who oversee the crew, the public and regulatory bodies.
“On any given day, I see myself as the mortar between all those bricks because I work very, very closely with all of them,” said McCarthy.
In response to a question from Maney, McCarthy said he will stress the importance of communication if he is appointed LCWD superintendent. He said he has developed “a good rapport” with engineers and contractors.
Almy asked McCarthy about his experience working with wells.
McCarthy said the treatment plant he works for in Danvers has two well fields that are located in the Ipswich River Basin. He said the majority of Danvers’ water comes from the Middleton Pond.
Almy inquired if McCarthy has worked with the MWRA in the past.
McCarthy said no, but said he knows MWRA officials.
Maney asked McCarthy if he has experience implementing organizational changes to Danvers’ Water Department.
McCarthy said he has worked with his superiors in order to implement organizational changes.
“I haven’t done it single-handedly, but I know how it’s done,” said McCarthy.
Almy asked McCarthy if he has developed an operating budget for Danvers’ Water Department.
McCarthy said he helps set the treatment plant’s budget. He said he closely monitors expenses in order to make sure they are aligned with different line items in the budget. He said some adjustments are made at the end of the fiscal year.
“The problem is in many cases such as chemical purchasing, budgets are set in November or December but the chemical purchasing bids don’t come out until June,” said McCarthy. “You try to carry things over with a little bit of leeway as you go. I try to keep a little bit of a bubble on each line item because operating a water treatment facility is a lot like construction. Things break and there is no way around it. I want to make sure the money is already tied up in the department so I can get it when I need it.”
Maney inquired if McCarthy has experience setting water rates.
McCarthy said he is not involved with setting water rates.
“I believe that water rates should steadily climb over time,” said McCarthy. “There are some water systems who are proud to say they haven’t increased their water rates in 12 years and are not going to. I think they are shooting themselves in the foot. I think it should be carefully planned out so when it’s time for an upgrade, you are ready to go.”
In response to a question from Youngren, McCarthy said Danvers does have water restrictions.
“I have a hand in setting the restrictions,” said McCarthy. “The Water Department’s distribution side enforces the restrictions.”
McCarthy noted he reports to Danvers’ DPW director, operations director and the water and sewer supervisor.
“The water and sewer supervisor handles the Sewer Department and the distribution system, and I handle treatment,” said McCarthy. “We work very closely. I educate the distribution guys about water quality and they will educate our guys about system maintenance.”
In response to a question from Almy, McCarthy said he would work with familiarize himself with the LCWD and its employees if appointed superintendent.