Launch Slideshow

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Building legacies

Building legacies

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    Rick Merson has worked with Needham, Mass., for 35 years. Photo: Town of Needham, Department of Public Works

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    Mickey Sullivan started his career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is now regional vice president with Gresham, Smith & Partners. Photo: Gresham, Smith & Partners

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    Doug Wesselschmidt is city engineer in Shawnee, Kan., where he has worked for the past 20 years. Photo: City of Shawnee

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    Brian Usher is public works director of rapidly growing Zion, Ill., where more than 600 homes are projected to be built over the next three years. Photo: City of Zion

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    Mitch Zamojc is commissioner of public works in the expanding Region of Peel, Ontario. The region plans to divert 70% of waste away from landfills by 2016. Photo: Region of Peel

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    Orange County public works director Bill Baxter, left, accepts his Top Ten award from APWA president-elect Bob Freudenthal. Photo: Orange County Public Works

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    Sacramento County, Calif., Municipal Services Agency administrator Cheryl Creson stands near one of the large pipeline jobs underway for the Sacramento Regional Sanitation District. Photo: Chris Andis

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    Piano public works director Jimmy Foster has brought lessons culled in his travels to 55 different countries back to his home city. Photo: Deborah Stone

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    Leslie Bland, director of public works for the city of Fenton, Mich., installed a capital improvement plan to upgrade his town's roads. Photo:APWA Reporter

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    Las Vegas public works director Richard Goecke has seen exponential growth in his 20-year tenure. Photo:APWA Reporter

Jimmy B. Foster, P.E.: Director of public works City of Plano, Texas

When asked to talk about Plano, Jimmy Foster sounds like a proud parent. He lists the numerous quality-of-life awards the city of 245,000 people has received over the years, including recognition as an All-America City in 1994, one of America's best cities for women (by Ladies Home Journal), and best city of more than 100,000 in which to live west of the Mississippi (CNN Money). However, as Foster said, it isn't necessarily a bad thing for a public works director to crow.

“Public works needs to improve its public relations—communicate to the general public the high level of the product we furnish,” said Foster. “Public works, stereotypically, fails to ‘toot its own horn.' We furnish a good product, so let's tell others about it. If it's the truth, it's not bragging.”

Under Foster's leadership, Plano's Public Works Operations Division—through public outreach and education- built a water conservation program that has led to a significant decline in the city's per capita water usage. The program offers a number of water-saving tools, including low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, toilet dams, and rain sensors for automatic sprinkler systems. In addition. Plano has an extensive public education program, with an array of seminars, classes, and hands-on training.

In all areas of public works, said Foster, it is important for agencies to listen to their constituents and respond. “Public works departments should monitor complaints and trends of complaints so that their vision of quality is not outdated or out of touch,” he said. “Time is a strong component of quality in the 21 st century. The timeliness of the service is just as important as the materials and workmanship of the visible product.” The city welcomes citizen input, holding regular roundtable meetings, and the publishing e-mail addresses and phone numbers of town officials. A work-order system maintains a history of contacts by address.

A world traveler. Foster has visited and worked in 55 countries. He served as director of a community development project in Burkina Faso, and as a humanitarian aid consultant in countries such as Yemen, Armenia, and Mongolia. During his travels and at home, Foster has learned the importance of meeting the present and future needs of diverse communities.

“Many cities in the United States are changing demographically,” he said. “The services we provide need to reflect the desires and needs of these demographic/ ethnic groups. Likewise, our communication needs to exhibit the styles with which these groups feel comfortable. How should that communication be structured? How should our services be offered? These will be some of the challenges of the future.”

Richard D. Goecke: Public works director City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a city that never rests—and neither does Dick Goecke, the city's public works director for two decades. He oversees a workforce of 400 employees and commands an annual operating budget of more than $100 million. The challenge of piloting the public works department of such an active city is made even tougher by the fact that Las Vegas continually is transforming itself—new casinos, resorts, attractions, and residential developments pop up every day.

“The Las Vegas landscape constantly changes,” said Goecke. “When I came here in 1985, the city's population was 197,148. Today, Las Vegas proper has upwards of 559,824 residents, a 283% increase. For public works, this means focusing on funding, building, and maintaining the transportation infrastructure, wastewater management, flood control measures, fire stations, parks—all those things a community depends on. It has been exciting and rewarding to me, to be part of these efforts to develop the infrastructure to accommodate this unprecedented growth.”

Goecke has met the challenges facing his dynamic city with a variety of innovative solutions. For example, because the municipality is sited in the middle of the desert, water is a primary concern. He directed the development of a new water reclamation facility, and he led the charge to form a regional coalition of area agencies to address long-term wastewater issues.

“Accommodating growth as it relates to water and wastewater treatment is a top priority and, in light of southern Nevada's ongoing drought and water restrictions, water-related issues take on even more importance,” he said. “Since 1989, more than $200 million has been spent to expand our main treatment facility. Efforts have also focused on moving away from the practice of using drinking water for irrigation. In 1999, we put southern Nevada's first satellite water reuse facility into operation and a year later, a second, larger, reuse facility came online to provide reuse water to nearby golf courses.”

Goecke will soon have more time to enjoy those Vegas golf courses—he plans to retire later this year, enjoying a much-deserved break.