Around Town

lisa jimenezAround Town: Silver City News and Services is a new column by Lisa Jimenez, who is contracted with the town of Silver City to provide freelance writing services.

Around Town will cover utilities, streets, and other town amenities that are in the news

Silver City -- Peter Peña, director of Silver City's Public Works Department, is primarily a planner and manager, but he's also part magician and puzzle mastermind, as he and his 28 employees handle all residential and commercial garbage and recycling pick-ups, maintain 13 town parks and the town cemetery, the recreation center and municipal pool, all town vehicles and equipment, plus 72 lane miles of town streets, all within tight budget parameters.

"This job is very stressful; we only hear the complaints," said Peña, a 22-year veteran of the department, with 20 of those as director.  "But it's also a very rewarding job. I get to see all of the improvements, and see the people who come to Silver City and enjoy what we have here.  My goal is to work as hard as I can to change Silver City in a positive way."

The Public Works Department consists of six key divisions. The "city shop" is staffed by a supervisor and three mechanics, who are responsible for maintaining all town vehicles and equipment, no small task given aging equipment and ever-increasing need. The parks department manages all town parks and Memory Lane Cemetery, a job that explodes with the onset of the festival season, which kicks off every April with the Tour of the Gila Bicycle Race, moves into high gear with the annual Silver City Blues Festival at Gough Park, and concludes in the fall with the Red Hot Children's Fiesta, and other local events.

The parks department, staffed by a supervisor and five employees, also maintains the Scott Park baseball fields, the Silver City Museum, town Library and the Visitor's Center grounds, as well as the Ben Altamirano Sports Complex, a shared venture with Silver High School. The municipal pool, which opens May 27th this year, requires many maintenance hours, and the $4 entrance fee doesn't cover the costs of operations, says Peña, but it's an important source of summer fun and recreation, requiring the hiring of a manager, two assistants and as many lifeguards as possible, ideally 12 each season.  The pool offers general swim for all ages, lap swimming and is available for private parties. 

Silver City's Community Development Department is the one department that impacts residents most on a daily basis, but whose function is least understood.  Perhaps best defined by planning and land use, which determine where residents live, work and play, staff say it's the default contact when people don't know where else to turn.

"We're the nerd department," jokes Jaime Embick, director of the department.  "We have to know something about everything." Humor flows easily between the four-person staff, underpinning a deep commitment to a set of core values, posted near the large, wooden conference table that dominates the office: customer service; excellence; innovation; passion; integrity; and respect.

"We regularly receive emails and calls from customers, thanking us for being so helpful," said Embick, who ended the practice of closing the office over lunch, when it became clear that customers needed the opportunity to take care of business on their lunch hours. "Customer service really is important to us, she said. "We take it very seriously."

Embick also takes innovation and cost-cutting very seriously. After a six-month stint as code enforcement officer after joining the department in 2011, she suggested that the job would be more efficiently handled by a police officer, given that she was required to be accompanied by an officer to handle on-site complaints. Today code enforcement is handled by Silver City police, saving taxpayers the cost of a full-time employee. But that innovation was only the beginning.  Since becoming director in 2015 after serving as planner then zoning administrator, Embick has trimmed an eight-member staff by half, largely through attrition, and brought long-term planning functions in-house, saving taxpayers a bundle.