Chatham's New DPW Director Hit The Streets Running

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

Topics: Infrastructure , Chatham , People

Tom Temple, Chatham's new director of public works. ELIZABETH VAN WYE PHOTO

Tom Temple, Chatham’s new director of public works, has a vivid memory of his first day on the job. Monday, Feb. 8 dawned with snow, and not just a dusting. When you are responsible for the 118 lane miles of road and a blizzard of fast-falling snow and high winds wallops the area, you do your best to survive.

Temple, who brought more than 30 years experience with the Marlborough Department of Public Works to his new job, knew that town like the back of his hand. But he was in Chatham now. “I knew all the hot spots in Marlborough but here I didn’t yet know the roadways!” he recalled with a smile.

Luckily he had a lot of help, he said, and credits colleagues like Paul White and Dan Tobin with helping him get through that day. “People dropped everything to help,” he recalled. Several storms, an arctic freeze and a water main break later, he was rolling with the punches and getting to know the town. He knows it will take a year until he experiences all the challenges his new job will bring. “Everyone’s been really good,” he stressed. “I’m pretty impressed with the staff and the crews.”

A 1983 graduate of Franklin Institute with an associate’s degree in civil engineering technology, Temple grew up in Marlborough, a city with a strong business community that is home to “36,000 people at night and 80,000 during the day.” The eighth of nine children, he was a gifted athlete and musician, playing the bugle in the local drum and bugle corps. He also played football in high school and went on to play three years of semi-pro ball with the Marlborough Shamrocks while in college.

Temple is no stranger to hard work, putting himself through college working 60-plus hours a week pumping gas, bagging groceries and working at the local hospital. It was while working for a land survey firm in college that he realized that engineering, with its detailed and deliberate approach, might be the field for him.

He started with the city of Marlborough in 1983 and eventually worked his way up to assistant commissioner of operations, heading up the town’s public works departments and supervising 90 employees, seven divisions and an $18 million operating budget.

Since his arrival last winter, Temple has been getting to know Chatham. With a portfolio that includes water and sewer, streets and the transfer station, he has plenty on his plate. However, unlike other cities where summer is a busy time for road repair and construction, roadwork is generally shut down in Chatham during the summer months when tourist activity is at its height. Temple wants to use that time to meet with staff, get plans in place and get organized.

His philosophy is simple.

“I have a lot of patience and like to listen to what people are saying. Whatever the project, I like to think ‘how would I feel if this was happening in front of my house?’ Make sure it would be acceptable to you.”

As he gets to know his new town, Temple has already begun importing some of the program ideas that worked for him in Marlborough. Of particular interest in every program is using materials wisely, making sure that projects have a level of planning that reduces overlap, duplication of effort and expense.

The town sweeping program is an example. Using on online Geographic Information System or GIS, he has mapped out the street sweeping schedule on the town's website so that residents can see where they are on the schedule. He is working on similar initiatives to develop and put out plans for the pavement management plan, the water meter reading program and more.

He is also looking at ways to evaluate possible improvements to the transfer station so that it is more accessible with better traffic movement. “We hope to reduce noise and odors,” he said, as well as reducing costs and improving efficiency.

Meeting with staff and starting to plan ahead, Temple brings that “new set of eyes” to the work and is looking out for available grants to help fund some initiatives. “There are lots of new and different things coming,” he noted. “We have some great people, from the staff to the town manager and the selectmen.”

Temple is a big fan of transparency in government. Coming from a mayor-council form of government, his first-ever town meeting was the meeting he attended this May. “It was a little different but I was impressed with how well run it was. Everyone had a say – I actually expected more controversy but everyone was well behaved!” he said with a smile.

He is also a proponent of the town’s television station which broadcasts a host of town meetings. “It lets people know what we are doing, what the game plan is. Having the meetings broadcast on TV is huge for transparency,” he added. “We didn’t have that in Marlborough and having it here is a good thing.”

Temple and his wife Vicki have three children, two still in college and one out, but “I’m still paying,” he added. His wife is from the Cape and they were frequent visitors. They had talked about retiring here and when Temple saw the ad for the job last fall, the timing seemed to work. “We love the community – it’s a great area,” he said.

Temple knows he is navigating a steep learning curve in his new job. “I’ve never been afraid of work and I appreciate the opportunity. I really want to thank everyone for their support!” he said. Temple can be reached at TTemple@chatham-ma.gov.