Following former Department of Public Works Superintendent Benny Salanitro’s retirement, the village has hired a replacement.
Jeff Coleman, 47, started his new job with the village Feb. 11 and brings a background in engineering, degrees from Clemson and Pace universities and 18 years of experience in public works, mostly recently in the town of Cortlandt.
Coleman said he heard about the job posting because he’s involved in professional organizations with others in the industry.
After hearing Salanitro was retiring, Coleman threw his hat in the ring and applied.
“I started my career in the private sector,” Coleman said. “I was there for about seven years. I worked for a consulting firm doing engineering work.”
He worked with TRC Raymond Keyes Associates from 1994 until 2001.
His career morphed into a position with New Rochelle as the public works commissioner until 2010. After Coleman left New Rochelle, he worked for Cortlandt for eight years, the town in which he grew up and raised his family.
Cortlandt has an environmental services department, which functions in the same way as a public works department, providing full-service sanitation, highway services, pothole patching, plowing and building maintenance.
With that level of service, Coleman was in charge of about 70 full-time employees. The number rose in the summer when seasonal employees were hired.
“It did have a fair share of emergencies in the area, which we responded to, we had a seasonal staff who knew what they were doing,” Coleman said. “We all enjoyed what we did, it was a good group to work with.”
In Cortlandt, Coleman said the department did a lot of the work in-house as opposed to contracting it to outside services, which he enjoyed.
“We had some fun projects,” he said. “There are a lot of similarities to Scarsdale, it’s just a smaller scope.”
It takes a specific background to be successful in this line of work.
“In general, you have to have some engineering background through education, through experience and construction,” Coleman said. “A lot of what we do is design, construction, maintenance and operation.”
Coleman said those four points are the four pillars of public works.
If someone is involved in just one of those points and they’re predisposed to be a public works department employee, they’ll be drawn into some of the other aspects of it.
“The folks I’ve come across in my career who have been successful have had a level of involvement and a keen level of interest in those four areas,” he said. “You can’t discount one or the other, you really have to be involved in it all for them to really do their job well and to be excited about it.”
Since he started in the industry, Coleman said, there have been changes over the years, but he’s always been committed to providing good value to the residents.
“I think that’s been hammered on in the last decade or so, particularly with things like the tax cap and other stressors on municipal services, really providing the value to our customers,” he said.
Coleman said he’s always worked to provide DPW service that’s cost effective while being responsive, which can be difficult to balance.
“Lots of times you can do one or the other,” he said. “But trying to find that sweet spot where you can do both is what’s changed over the last decade or so.”
Coming to Scarsdale, Coleman said, has presented some differences from where he’s worked in the past.
He said it’s become readily apparent he will be more involved in the individual aspects of each of the operations. In a larger operation, a DPW director may be somewhat disconnected, which makes it harder to get information or be very involved.
“Here it seems it’s a bit easier to get that accomplished, and there’s more fun doing that,” he said.
As far as physical differences, Coleman said Scarsdale is a more urban type environment. Cortlandt, by comparison, has larger lots that are well forested with old tree growth — all competing for the same resources on the same lot. In Scarsdale, Coleman said the trees are more manicured and the canopies are healthy.
On the public side, Cortlandt has a more traditional system which means trees can grow more naturally along the roadside and the highway department doesn’t follow an initiative to prune and weed out the trees.
Collaboration between residents and the village is another aspect of the job Coleman has worked on in the past, in the same way Scarsdale’s various boards and committees work with the public works department on new programs and environmental initiatives, including the food scrap recycling initiative.
Though there have been differences between his previous workplaces, Coleman said one thing remains constant — the job is always 24/7 to a certain extent.
And now he’s eager to get to work.