Launch Slideshow

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Top Leaders

Top Leaders

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    Steven Hansen's greatest challenge is maintaining aging infrastructure. Incorporated in 1829, Liberty, Mo., juggles the need to meet demands of a growing population with system components that date back 100 years or more. Photo: Sara Cooke

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    Morton, Ill., superintendent of public works Bob Wraight credits his organization's efficiency to its horizontal structure. “The more levels there are between the top and the bottom, the more communication breakdowns there are,” he says. Photo: Marc Nix

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    Kurt Corey poses with Lily the Pacific Green Tree Frog, the mascot for SPLASH (Stormwater Pollution: Learn and Share), an educational outreach program in Eugene, Ore. Photo: Kurt Corey

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    As former commissioner of transportation and works for the Regional Municipality of York, Ontario, Kees Schipper served a community that grew by an average of 40,000 people per year. Photo: Gail Lemieux

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    In 2005, Larry Lux visited Australia to compare the country's emergency management programs to American programs. He attended Australian football games, and got up close and personal with kangaroos, dingos, wombats, and fairy penguins. Photo: Larry Lux

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Roll with the punches

Jim Close tackles one problem at a time—with the big picture in mind.

Whether your town is small, medium, or large, being public works director can be hectic.

For Jim Close, the key to keeping a level head is all about making and achieving goals. “All jobs have good days and not-so-good days,” he says. “Public works is no exception.”

One of the biggest challenges Close has contended since he became the director of public works for Harrisburg, Pa., in 1983 was gradually reducing public works manpower by 20% while devising alternative sources of revenue for the city. He used his technical and innovative thinking to develop programs that decreased operational expenses through in-house demolition, alley paving, signal maintenance, and trash collection.

Despite budget cuts, the city of Harrisburg has been revived. In a nutshell, Close has done more with less. “Vision and perseverance are a prerequisite for success,” says Close. “The challenge is to get the citizens you serve, the workforce you depend upon, and the decision makers to buy into your goals.”

Many environmental issues that Close encounters begin with citizens who are unaware of the consequences of their actions. “Alot of public works'time and resources are spent on behavioral problems, like litter, graffiti removal, illegal dumping, abandoned vehicles, and blighted properties,” he says.

Young people interested in his line of work should experience a wide range of jobs within the public works realm. Starting with a summer job in parks or highways helps. “You need to understand the ‘work'in public works,” he says.

Jim Close, director of public works, Harrisburg, Pa.
  • Years in public works: 30
  • City stats: Harrisburg, the state capital, has 50,000 residents. The public works department has 165 employees and an annual budget of $38 million.
  • Education background: Political science degree, University of Richmond. After five years in the public sector, he took night classes to get his master's in public administration from Duquesne University.
  • Best job: For 19 summers, Close was a children's camp director.
  • Fun fact: His wish as a public works director would be for citizens to be good neighbors, act responsibly, and help protect the environment.