New Pawtucket DPW chief: This is where the rubber meets the road

New Pawtucket DPW chief: This is where the rubber meets the road

PAWTUCKET – William “Bill” Ankner, the city’s new and highly experienced director of public works, hit the ground running on Monday, quickly getting up to speed on maintaining and building local infrastructure.

Ankner, 69, said he looks forward to using what he’s learned over 40 years in jobs at all levels to keep Pawtucket moving in the right direction. Mayor Donald Grebien tapped him for the job in large part due to his experience on transportation infrastructure initiatives, and he was “delighted” to say yes, said Ankner.

The former head of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation under Gov. Lincoln Almond said he and his wife of 48 years, Joan, previously enjoyed their time in Rhode Island and look forward to making a new home here.

Previously a North Smithfield resident, Ankner said he’s worked with mayors and town managers in a variety of jobs at the state level, but the “local level is an area that is where the proverbial rubber meets the road.” It’s the place “where you can get a number of things done firsthand,” he told The Valley Breeze.

Pawtucket taxpayers can expect an employee who isn’t “looking for my next great career,” said Ankner, but someone who will try every day to improve community life in the city. The key job of any DPW director is to determine the areas “of greatest risk to the mobility and safety to our public,” and deliver services that protect residents, he said. He promised to do the “best I can for the citizens of Pawtucket” to “improve the transportation system” in the city.

Pawtucket is facing “considerable transportation challenges,” said Ankner, especially with a planned new train station and transit-oriented development, and he’s ready to meet those challenges. Another initiative that attracted him to the job is the one to keep the Pawtucket Red Sox in Pawtucket, he said.

Ankner said his previous work advising Almond and others when Patriots owner Robert Kraft was exploring moving the team to Providence will come in handy as he advises Grebien and the City Council on various issues related to the PawSox, especially on maximizing transportation assets for the team and its stadium.

Another experience that will prove valuable is his work on transit-oriented development along a rail line in Moorestown, N.J., “a great success story,” he said.

Ankner fills a job vacated by Lance Hill in November of 2015. Chief of Staff Dylan Zelazo had been serving in an interim role. Ankner will be paid $105,000 a year after the City Council approved a new higher pay scale of $95,000-$110,000 when officials said they couldn’t find a qualified candidate to take the job.

“We are excited to have someone with Bill’s expertise and experience joining the team. His breadth of knowledge will be an invaluable addition as we continue to reinvest in our community, its quality of life and its infrastructure,” said Grebien in a statement. “His expertise in transportation issues will be especially valuable with the train station project. His statewide experience will help take us to the next level in everything we do as we seek to address significant challenges throughout the city, including major facilities issues at a number of our public buildings.”

Ankner said that one of his strengths is in maximizing assets when money is limited, a skill that will be put to the test in Pawtucket, where repairs to many public buildings and facilities were delayed for years. When money is short, it’s even more important to take an “asset management approach” to public roadways and buildings, he said. The best way to save money over the long haul is to have a good preventative maintenance plan in place for everything from buildings and roads to vehicles.

“I’m a strong believer in asset management,” he said.

Though some of Pawtucket’s bigger goals attracted him to the job, said Ankner, he understands well that he’ll be evaluated on the little things, like fixing cracked ceilings or synchronizing traffic lights. The new DPW chief says he’s quite familiar with snow removal processes in Rhode Island, having been here for the April 1 blizzard of 1997.

Ankner, considered a national leader in transportation, most recently left his job as a consultant in the field. In addition to his prior position as Rhode Island DOT director, he was previously transportation and development director in Louisiana and executive director of the Missouri Transportation Institute, among other jobs in public service and education.

One matter prompting questions from critics of Grebien is Ankner’s sudden departure as transportation secretary under Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2010. Some have characterized the resignation as a firing, but Ankner denies that was the case. He said it was simply a matter of having “different priorities” than Jindal. The primary difference was on Ankner’s desire to implement a “design-build” method on projects, an effort to streamline processes under single contracts. Interestingly, since he left that position, what was once a controversial method is now commonly used in Louisiana, he noted.

Ankner said he and his wife are open to living in Pawtucket, but haven’t settled on a home in Rhode Island yet. Part of their consideration will be finding a place where their 15-year-old “cockapoo,” a cocker spaniel-poodle mix named Toby, will be comfortable. After living with Ankner for all this time, the rescue dog “deserves that,” he joked.

The Ankners have two sons and three granddaughters. Bill Ankner said his wife would say his primary hobby is transportation – he wears a tie with cars and trucks on it – but he also enjoys reading, walking, movies and “good jazz.” As one will guess from his girth, said Ankner, he also enjoys eating.

Comments

This is another person in a series of hires thats a republican.
Wake up Pawtucket Grebien is clearly a Republican and has lied to us about being a democrat. Why is our state democratic leadership not disowning this phoney

Great hire if you're looking to go to privatization after all this is the guy who gutted RIDOT when he ran it. He took a department that was highly regarded nationally ( especially bridge inspection and maintenance) and turned it into an empty shell that put the state in the position it's now in. But what can you expect from this administration when it's more about who you know and what you bring politically then if you can actually do the job

Maybe its just me, but the he!! does the DPW director or even the whole public works dept have to do with the pawsox organization? Clearly he if has time to play consultant to donny on the pawsox there must not be enough for him to do here in the city.

"...will come in handy as he advises Grebien and the City Council on various issues related to the PawSox, especially on maximizing transportation assets for the team and its stadium. "

I just cant comprehend the above quote. with all the potholes, facilities in an state of disrepair, schools falling apart but we have time to help the Sox out any way we can. What a joke. They should just all resign and take their front office with the pawsox just get the affair over with already

You folks need to find a hobby. I'm sorry, I guess this is your hobby. Better Government really dislikes "Republicans" (deplorables) because the Democratic Party has done such a stellar job with our state, reading and watching apparently doesn't like "waiting" to see if he new guy is capable and justwatchin apparently is clueless as to DPW's role is with the PawSox. Oh well, par for the course for this group. Snowflakes melting in this warm weather....

Wait? All you have to do is look at his track record oops forgot your boss the Mayor doesn't want you to.

If this wasn't a politics hire why didn't they repost the job once they raised the pay instead off just giving it to him?