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----------------------------------Getting the public into publicity
Joe Haworth, information officer and division engineer, Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, Calif.
Haworth has spent a career making customers care about public infrastructure.
In 1971, as project engineer for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, Haworth felt the agency's work was too valuable to go unnoticed simply because his colleagues had neither the time nor the inclination to explain their contribution to public health. So he asked his boss if he could formalize the agency's public-outreach efforts into an information office.
He started by getting speaking invitations at schools and chambers of commerce, where he passed out brochures on how waste-water is treated and where solid waste goes. He invited residents to join advisory committees. He wrote articles, books, and brochures for local and national associations. He volunteered his materials and services to other agencies. He taught public speaking to masters candidates at Loyola Marymount University's environmental-engineering program.
In the 1980s, he got a coalition of public agencies and private corporations to cast aside their ownership issues and form a foundation (www.thinkearth.org) that targets students. He partnered with local agencies on another program in which high school students run a “baby sewage plant” for a week. “Kids love the ‘yuck factor' of sanitary sewer systems,” says Haworth. “By the end of these courses, half want to work for you, and some even say they want to be sanitation engineers.”
In 1997, he joined a group of local newspapers in developing an educational supplement that reaches 4 million customers every other month, including a large Spanish-speaking population.
By the time Haworth retired in July, his eight-member office was spending $1 million a year on communicating with the agency's 5 million customers.
“If you're enthusiastic and persistent, you'll convince people that infrastructure is a worthy community activity,” says Haworth.
— Stephanie Johnston