He’s been filling in for nearly two years since the abrupt departure of Harold ‘Jack’ Sisson and now Chris Gonsalves can remove the ‘acting’ from his highway surveyor title.
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously last week to appoint Mr. Gonsalves to the post of Westport highway surveyor.
The decision followed interviews with both Mr. Gonsalves and the other finalist candidate, Tisbury (Martha’s Vineyard) Public Works Department Director Glenn Mauk.
Before voting, selectmen said they were impressed by the credentials of and answers given by both candidates, noting that they would bring varied talents to the position.
Mr. Mauk is an attorney, a professional civil engineer and land surveyor, a background that impressed the interviewers.
Mr. Gonsalves ran his own bricklaying business before joining the town Highway Department where he has worked for ten years, four of them as foreman before taking over as acting highway surveyor.
Selectmen agreed that they were won over by Mr. Gonsalves’ demonstrated ‘people skills,” both with those he supervises and with the public he serves. And several said that he had earned the job through his performance as acting surveyor.
Interviewed later, Mr. Gonsalves said that he considers himself a “people person,” an asset that is essential to the job.
He said he especially enjoys the opportunities to assist townspeople with problems — “People come to us with complaints and I like finding ways to help them out.”
But he deflected much of the credit.
“I have a great group of guys down here, a great team that gets things done and saves money for Westport.”
Selectman R. Michael Sullivan said he appreciates the fact that Mr. Gonsalves is usually found out on the road with his crew but suggested that he now become more of a supervisor and designate a foreman for the hands-on work.
He appreciates that, Mr. Gonsalves said, and will try to balance the work better.
“But I am a hands-on guy, not a suit and tie guy … I’ll always feel the need to be out there, not back in the office.” That approach is needed given the small size of the department and the many miles of roads to be maintained, he added. And while he may not have the degrees of some other candidates, he said his hands-on approach and ability to work well with the town’s engineering consultant, Tibbetts Engineering, offset that.
This past winter alone, he figures that they saved the town over $100,000 in snow removal costs by getting plows, some of them aging, on the road early and “keeping ahead of things.”
His priorities include pursuing a road maintenance plan that’s been in place for years but has been waylaid by one problem or another.
Still, he said, Westport’s roads are in surprisingly good shape given the challenges faced.
A year ago, a federal fellow visited to inspect Westport’s roads to see how much federal repair money they might qualify for.
“He went all over town and said, ‘You really don’t qualify for aid’ … Though we’d appreciate the money, it’s a good thing that he thought out roads were that good.”
There is work to be done on several fronts, however.
People have often complained about the lack of road striping, something Mr. Gonsalves said will be addressed this year during road resurfacing with help from Selectmen and Chapter 90 funds.
Many catch basins need work, he said, and will get it as part of resurfacing efforts.
He said he is looking forward to finishing some high profile work — paving East Beach Road, Beach Avenue and Riverview Drive.
East Beach Road is still a couple months away from getting that sorely needed pavement, he said, but “it will happen” once bidding is done.
Later in the summer, he hopes to be tackle the rebuild of the odd intersection at Narrow Avenue and Sodom Road.
Mr. Gonsalves said he is also anxiously awaiting delivery of the long-awaited sanding truck approved by Selectmen last year and paid for with Chapter 90 state money.
“It’s still being built,” he said, adding that the experience has taught him the need to include deadline penalties in such dealing. “You live and learn … We really could have used that thing this spring to help us with all of the winter’s sand.”