boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Full day's work not found at DPW

W. Roxbury probe cites slackness

A 13-day investigation by a city watchdog agency found that Boston public works employees in West Roxbury assigned to duties such as filling potholes, sweeping streets, and picking up trash often arrived at work late, left early, and generally performed "very little work, mostly just driving around and parking for periods of time."

On 13 randomly chosen days in November, December, and January, from eight to 10 workers arrived up to 40 minutes late for their shifts and left up to two hours early, according to a memo to the city from the Boston Finance Commission, which conducted the surveillance.

One worker went to a West Roxbury home during his shifts nearly all of the 13 days, spending between one and three hours at the house before returning to work, says the memo, obtained yesterday by the Globe. A supervisor regularly showed up at work more than an hour late and was once seen performing what appeared to be personal errands during his shift.

At least one supervisor was at the department's neighborhood headquarters near Millennium Park and should have known workers were underperforming, but did not correct the behavior, according to the memo.

"It is obvious the supervisor is aware of how little gets done," states the memo, written by Jeffrey W. Conley, executive director of the Boston Finance Commission, a publicly funded agency appointed by the governor to act as a watchdog over city government.

Conley, who sent the document to public works superintendent Joseph Canavan on Jan. 29, declined to elaborate on the investigation beyond the contents of the memo yesterday.

Dennis Royer, the city's chief of public works and transportation, said yesterday that he launched a comprehensive investigation immediately after he received a copy of the memo and that he expects the scope of that probe to widen beyond operations in West Roxbury to department operations citywide.

"The pattern or the activity that we see here suggests the potential of a broader investigation of the way we handle certain things," Royer said. "I expect a day's work for a day's pay; any activity that shortchanges the taxpayers along those lines I will not tolerate."

He said the West Roxbury supervisor is facing disciplinary action along with at least one other employee assigned to the yard. Royer declined to name the employees or specify what penalties they face. He said others could face discipline in the coming weeks.

The West Roxbury supervisor was identified by two city employees briefed on the city's response to the investigation as Robert Indelicato, a 24-year public works supervisor who earned $58,288 last year, according to city payroll records. The employees declined to be identified for fear of losing their jobs.

A woman who answered the phone at Indelicato's Norwell house and identified herself as his wife said he declined to comment.

The Finance Commission investigation is the latest in a string of public embarrassments for the Public Works Department in recent months.

In December, police accused one employee assigned to West Roxbury of picking up heroin from a drug dealer in Dorchester. The employee -- Robert L. Walton, 50, of South Boston -- acknowledged to the Globe last month that he was supposed to be working in West Roxbury at about 9:30 a.m. Dec. 22, when police allege the drug deal occurred.

Earlier this month, police accused a department snowplow driver of running down a 64-year-old woman in South Boston and fleeing the scene. The driver, South Boston resident Joseph M. MacDonald, 26, and Walton have since been fired, city officials said.

Including the West Roxbury facility, the Public Works Department has nine neighborhood headquarters, called yards, across the city. Workers assigned to yards are generally responsible for upkeep of streets in the surrounding neighborhoods, including road repair, trash pickup, street sweeping, and snow removal. They also respond to complaints phoned into City Hall by residents.

The Finance Commission observed West Roxbury workers assigned to day shifts on Nov. 8, 9, 14, 15, 17, 27, and 29; Dec. 4, 8, 11, 15, and 27; and Jan. 4, the memo says.

Royer said workers assigned to the neighborhood were paid to work shifts from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. those days, except for one who was supposed to work from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and one paid to work from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The Finance Commission observed workers arriving for work at the West Roxbury facility between 7 a.m. and 7:40 a.m. and leaving as early as 1:30 p.m with most gone by 2:30 p.m., the memo says. During the day, the commission followed several crews driving around the neighborhood in city trucks. "When observing trucks in the district the occupants did very little work, mostly just driving around and parking for periods of time," the memo says.

One crew highlighted in the memo spent about 15 minutes emptying public trash barrels on main roads such as Centre Street, then apparently stopped working, "at times returning to the yard and other times just driving around."

The supervisor never arrived at work before 7:45 a.m. and generally did not show up until 8:15 a.m., the memo says. He would sometimes leave the neighborhood headquarters for an hour or two during the day. "On the days we observed him when leaving the yard we did not observe him checking on any of the employees," the memo says. "We observed him making what appeared to be stops to perform personal errands."

After receiving the Finance Commission memo, Royer said, public works officials combed the neighborhood for problems left unaddressed by West Roxbury workers and corrected them.

"We have made sure that whatever was there that needed to be done was taken care of," Royer said.

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES