Oswego’s new DPW Commissioner Tim Rice takes the helm

Pictured is Mayor William Barlow (left) with the city of Oswego’s newly-named DPW Commissioner Timothy Rice. Photo provided.

OSWEGO – It took Mayor William Barlow just 12 days to replace the DPW commissioner he fired Dec. 16. Tim Rice officially took over Jan. 3.

“Tim Rice has the knowledge, ability and leadership skills to make for an excellent Commissioner of the DPW,” Barlow said Dec. 29. “With extensive experience in labor relations and construction management, I know he will do a great job managing relationships, expanding the capability of the department, and ensuring top tier service to the residents of Oswego. I look forward to having Tim as part of my administration as we have plenty left to do to improve our community.”

That “plenty left to do” no doubt was a pressing factor in Barlow’s decision to move quickly on finding a replacement for Thomas Kells, arrested Dec. 17 for allegedly assaulting a 13-year-old boy at a city-sponsored Halloween event.

“I need to act fast,” Barlow said Dec. 17, “because we have a lot of ongoing projects. The International Pier is the number one priority. I’m in the middle of writing my State of the City address now where I’m coming up with three, four other projects I’d like to get done to round out my time as mayor, and I cannot waste one construction cycle, because I only have two left. So, we’ve got to keep moving, and I have to act fast, but finding the right person that I can work with and I get along with is key, and I’m not going to rush that until I find who I want.”

That person turned out to be a man Barlow has known for some years. Native Oswegonian “Tim Rice brings over 20 years of project management, labor relations, and leadership experience to the position after serving as the Business Agent for the Plumbers and Pipefitters UA Local 73,” according to the city’s official announcement on Rice’s new position. “Rice previously worked as a Mechanical Supervisor and Mechanical Superintendent at multiple nuclear power plants in the northeast,” the statement continued.

In fact, Rice was just about to start a new stint at Nine Mile nuclear power plant as superintendent for a piping project when “all this happened with the former DPW commissioner, and the mayor and I made contact, and sat down, and now I’m going down on Mitchell Street to the DPW,” he said in a recent interview.

Rice graduated Ithaca College with a bachelor of science degree planning on becoming a teacher. “I really didn’t enjoy it,” he said, “and that’s actually how I ended up in the Navy,” where he served four years as a hull technician, “basically a pipefitter,” he said.

“I ended up doing an apprenticeship with the pipefitters and found what I love to do and absolutely loved being a plumber/steamfitter. Everything, including this, all my experiences, because I went through that apprenticeship, learned a trade and worked my way up to foreman, general foreman, and went out as a superintendent.”

As Business Agent for the Plumbers and Pipefitters UA Local 73 for nine years, Rice ran the union’s everyday business, dispatching 300 men, negotiating contracts and enforcing them. He also served as president and vice-president of the union. Overall, he has worked in the trade for 27 years, he said. And somewhere in there, he found politics, serving as Oswego’s sixth ward Common Councilor from 2006 to 2008 during Mayor Randy Bateman’s administration.

“I loved it,” Rice said, “especially the legislative part of it. I loved the workings of a city. I enjoyed that.”

Fast forward to Dec. 16 and came the “sudden opening. I’d gotten to know the mayor during my time as business agent with Local 73 Plumbers & Steamfitters. Professionally, we’ve stayed in contact. He’s known what I’ve been doing the past four years, and we made contact, sat down, see if we were going to be a good fit and be able to work together, and we both believe we will, and it came about like that.”

He met with a number of the DPW’s current supervisors just recently before officially taking over.

“I know a lot of them,” he said. “I grew up here, went to high school here. This is my hometown, always has been. So, I know a lot of them. Oswego’s a small city, and I met with a handful of supervisors just to meet and greet.”

How does Rice envision the day-to-day in his new position?

“I see my role as supporting the men and women of the DPW who are more than capable of doing their jobs, and the do their jobs well and have with the absence of a commissioner,” Rice said. “Anything I can do to get out in front of them, whether it be materials or equipment or any issues, just to help make their workflow better and knock down obstacles and deal with any issues we have to deal with.”

The Department of Public Works employs about 100 men and women.

“They (the DPW) have good superintendents,” Rice said. “Some of them I’ve met. They have a good deputy commissioner in there now, Craig Rebeor, whose a capable, capable guy. They’re well-equipped to keep this city running, and they do.”

Rice readily praised the projects completed and in the works under the Barlow administration.

“The mayor has been doing great improvement projects around the city,” Rice said, “all the work down at Wright’s Landing, and down at the bottom of the hill of Breitbeck, and the pavilion he put in at Wright’s Landing, and they’re doing the pier project. Actually, I have a meeting next week to find out what other projects. And that’s what I’ll be working on and what I’ve been working on the past four years traveling all over the place, running projects and managing projects.”

Will he be working with the city engineer on many things?

“If a project is engineered,” he replied, “any change orders, that type of thing, then it’ll go to our city engineer, or any smaller projects that are designed in-house, I’ll be dealing with the city engineer.”

One of the jobs the DPW is well-known for is its snowplowing.

“They have some good supervisors down there that have been doing it for years,” Rice said. “They have a great handle on it, and they do a great job with our streets. By noon, after a four-foot, five-foot snow, the roads are bare. And it isn’t that way everywhere. People struggle moving snow. We know how to move snow up here.”

Is going to learn how to drive a snowplow?

“I’m hoping to ride in one,” he replied. “I want to see what the men and women do. I want to job-shadow as much as I can. And if the opportunity comes, I absolutely will job-shadow on a plow.”

Does he see this as a longterm career move?

The DPW commissioner serves at the pleasure of the mayor.

“I work project to project,” Rice said, “and right now, this is to support Mayor Barlow, and there are two years left in his term. That’s the important thing. I’m going in, I’m supporting the mayor the rest of his term for now. And I think we’ll be a good team for his improvement projects around the city.”

For now, Rice is ready to go. “I’m am,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited to get to know the men and women down there and see how I can best support them to perform their work. I’m very excited to now be involved, in a very significant way, with Mayor Barlow’s productive administration. I’m excited to assist with all the ongoing waterfront, downtown and park improvement projects and look forward to working with the capable men and women of the Oswego DPW.”

Will he be making any changes?

“Not immediately,” he said. “An old saying in the Navy is, ‘You don’t change the set of the sail your first day at the helm.’ And that rings true in any circumstance you’re ever supervising or managing people.”

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