Meriden hires Southington resident as public works director



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MERIDEN — The city’s next director of Public Works & Engineering brings decades of experience in the field. 

On Tuesday, after a three-month search, City Manager Timothy Coon announced John P. Lawlor Jr., 56, of Southington, has been hired to fill the role. Lawlor’s official start date is June 13. His  annual salary will be $135,000. 

Lawlor previously served as director of Public Works in East Hartford, a position he held since 2020. Prior to that, he served for eight years as Bloomfield’s director of Public Works & Facilities, and a year as deputy director in New Haven.

“Meriden as a community and as a department has a great reputation,” Lawlor said in a phone interview Tuesday.

While he anticipates the department will “need to continue to modernize the way we do business,” Lawlor said he is not coming in with plans for an overhaul. 

The city’s ongoing efforts to reduce and manage flooding is something Lawlor said is “not uncommon” to him.

As a Southington resident, he is looking forward to the opportunity to work close to home. 

Over the past decade, Meriden’s Department of Public Works & Engineering oversaw a series of flood control and economic development projects. The largest and most visible is the Meriden Green, which was completed through an infusion of grants and funds from various sources, including state and federal funds. Efforts to expand the Green are ongoing.

“The Green is obviously gorgeous. It’s one of my favorite things about Meriden,” Lawlor said. 

Lawlor’s longest tenured position was in Waterbury, where he worked for more than 20 years. He joined that city’s public works department as an engineering technician in 1990 and later retired in 2011 as the department director under Waterbury’s then-early retirement incentive program, according to Republican-American newspaper reports. 

Lawlor’s employment as an engineer began in the private sector. He worked for engineering firms in Meriden, Cheshire and Waterbury before entering the public sector, according to his resume. 

All the while, Lawlor served in the U.S. Army. Prior to his retirement from the military, Lawlor had risen in the ranks, serving as Brigadier General in the Army Reserve. 

According to Lawlor’s resume, he authored a report in 2004 titled “Developing public works in a war-torn Iraq,” which was published by the APWA Reporter, an industry periodical affiliated with the American Public Works Association.

“I’ve been in the field an awful long time. I brought myself up through the ranks,” Lawlor said. “I’ve taken jobs that pushed me into directions I might not otherwise have gone.”  

Well positioned

City officials are excited to bring Lawlor on board. 

Coon, the city manager, said he knew Lawlor professionally through his roles in Bloomfield and East Hartford, and also through their tenures in the Army Reserves. 

“He brings a wealth and depth of experience that’s hard to find in the field,” Coon said.

Coon said Lawlor brings a skillset that can build upon and enhance the city’s existing operations.

Among the priorities moving forward: flood control, continued downtown traffic management, and maintaining the city’s infrastructure while ensuring the department runs efficiently, Coon explained.

Mayor Kevin Scarpati said interviews with candidates for the position touched upon a variety of subjects. He described Lawlor as “well-rounded” and “certainly qualified.”

“He’s been in municipalities that are much larger than Meriden. He’s dealt with an employee pool that’s much larger. From a management level, he’s certainly got the criteria to manage a department like ours,” Scarpati said. “He’s very knowledgeable about going after grants and being creative when it comes to budgeting. He’s got a strength in infrastructure building.”

Scarpati said the work to address historic flooding issues is not done. Lawlor appears well positioned to assume leadership of those efforts. 

Scarpati said in addition to those big picture endeavors, the Department of Public Works & Engineering needs to also be attuned to what he described as “the little things — the quality of life matters we hear about from residents on a regular basis.”

“If there is a pothole in front of someone’s house or a broken piece of curbing that was struck by a snow plow. That may not mean much to the administration or staff. But every day that person gets home, they either hit that pothole or have to swerve around it. To them that is the most important thing to get resolved,” Scarpati said. 

Scarpati said some of the ideas he heard during the interview were “spot-on” — especially when it comes to responding to residents’ concerns. Lawlor proposed a pro-active, rather than reactive approach to communication. 

That includes “ensuring that we’re listening to public concerns, and that we’re also doing more,” Scarpati said. “We need to be more proactive, and have a way to ensure we are keeping our infrastructure maintained.”

Six finalists

Lawlor was one of six finalists who was interviewed by a panel set up by Coon. He was later interviewed by a panel that had included Scarpati, City Council Majority Leader Sonya Jelks, Minority Leader Dan Brunet and Human Resources Director Josephine Agnello-Veley.

The position was posted in February, shortly after Howard Weissberg notified city officials he was resigning to take a new position in the transportation engineering field. Weissberg’s annual salary at the time was $128,000.

Following Weissberg’s departure, long-time city engineer Brian Ennis assumed leadership as interim director. 

A post advertising the position stated the director is responsible for managing a department of 40 employees that has an annual operating budget of $6 million. The posting stated the city sought "an experienced leader of people and projects with budget and capital planning experience."

It required at least a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or an associate's degree with a state-issued professional engineering license. The professional engineering license and advanced degrees or certifications were listed as preferred for all candidates. Applicants must have had at least five years’ engineering work experience with a minimum of three years as a supervisor in the public sector.

In addition to his work experience, Lawlor holds a master of science degree in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College, a master of public administration from Norwich College and a bachelor of science in civil and construction engineering from Central Connecticut State University. 

Weissberg, during his tenure in Meriden, oversaw the completion and planning of a series of infrastructure projects as part of the Harbor Brook Master Plan. That plan’s objectives include reducing the city's floodplain and remediating former industrial sites.

Brunet said questions he, Scarpati and Jelks asked largely related to Lawlor’s management style and approach to customer service.

Brunet described the Public Works & Engineering Department as one that is wide ranging.

Brunet said he believes Lawlor is “well-suited to take on the task.”

Reporter Michael Gagne can be reached at mgagne@record-journal.com.



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