Above: Public Works Director Joe Duarte’s last day is April 8.
The DPW director is the last department head hired by Bill Sequino
When Joe Duarte steps out the door at Public Works on Friday after 22 years, it will mark the end of the Bill Sequino era. Sequino was town manager for East Greenwich from 1988 to 2013. Duarte is the last of the department heads hired by Sequino. He follows former Town Planner Lisa Bourbonnais, who left in November. Cathy Bradley (parks and recreation) retired in 2021, and Wendy Schimdle (IT) retired in 2020.
Duarte, 57, has taken the job as director of public works for the Town of Cumberland, his hometown.
“I will finish my career there,” he said in an interview Tuesday. Actually, he’s returning to the job he held before taking the director position in East Greenwich in 2000. He’d been asked to return earlier but wasn’t ready. Duarte credited Sequino for creating an environment that encouraged people to stay. “He understood the pulse of the people, the council and the employees,” Duarte said.
Looking back over his tenure in EG, Duarte said he was proud of how his department had made life better for residents. “We provide a good quality of life for residents.”
The public works department has many facets – it is the one town department that touches every resident’s life directly, often in several different ways – from trash collection and snow removal, to sewers, to road maintenance.
What’s kept Duarte up nights over the years?
Big storms – ”People think we are just working the day of the storm but we prepare for days ahead and I’m often up in the middle of the night talking with [highway garage manager] Jim Fogel.”
And, he said, “the [wastewater] treatment plant makes me nervous.” He added the plant is in much better shape today than it was a few years ago, crediting voters for approving sewer bonds.
He spoke highly of the town councils he worked with over the years, mentioning Michael Isaacs in particular. Isaacs, who served as Town Council president from 2004 to 2016, praised Duarte in an email this week.
“I really enjoyed working with Joe during my time on the Town Council,” Isaacs wrote. “He has been an outstanding department head and a real asset to the town. Heading public works is a difficult job. It seems there are always budgetary pressures and snow storms always come overnight on weekends. I appreciated Joe’s diligence, hard work and straightforward approach when dealing with the council and the public. He will be missed. I wish him well in his new endeavors.”
Duarte’s one disappointment was not being able to get a new highway garage – it came close happened 15 years ago and there have been pushes over the years but they have always come up short.
“That’s something I wish I could have completed,” he said. “You have to maintain your infrastructure to be able to provide the service. I hope it’s something that gets done in the very near future.”
Duarte said the department is a well-oiled machine these days and he is especially proud the town was able to accomplish many smaller construction projects in-house, including the DPW offices themselves. That space had been the police station. After the new police station opened on First Avenue, DPW employees did most of the work to transform the old PD into the DPW offices.
Public works tends to hear from residents when things go wrong. Duarte said he recognized complaints were part of the job and that, largely, the complaints were legitimate and not mean spirited. Often, he said, when we explained the situation, people were understanding. But the goal, he said, is to create an environment where you don’t have complaints.
Duarte spoke with affection about working for East Greenwich. “It’s been an honor and a privilege,” he said. “In 22 years, you meet a lot of amazing people.”
He said the hard part was leaving his colleagues. “I’ll miss a lot of the people I’ve worked with over the years.”
Duarte followed John Cook as head of DPW – Cook had filled the role for 30 years. “That’s more than 50 years between us,” Duarte noted. “I hope the same for whoever follows me.”
Good luck, Joe.