Launch Slideshow

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2006 Department of the Year

2006 Department of the Year

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    The Glendale Public Works Department's Scholl Canyon Landfill serves five communities and contributes more than $8 million to the city each year in host and royalty fees. To extend the landfill's life from 15 to 30 years, the department conducted exhaustive financial and environmental analyses of alternatives like waste-by-rail and hauling to a more distant landfill before proposing the landfill be expanded horizontally and/or vertically.The Glendale leadership team, from left: (First row) Roubik Golanian, city engineer; Jake Amar, environmental management administrator; Yvonne Guerra, administrative analyst; Steve Zurn, director of public works, and Alina Morshidian, administrative analyst. (Second row) Michael Salehi, project management administrator; April Fitzpatrick, executive analyst; Mario Nunez, assistant integrated waste administrator; Stuart Tom, building official; and Albert Lee Jr., maintenance services administrator. (Back row) Shea Eccleston-Banwer, administrative analyst; Jano Baghdanian, traffic and transportation administrator; and Dave Cole, mechanical maintenance administrator. Photo: Keith Skelton/Black Star

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    “If we tell our story with honesty and integrity, we'll develop devotees of public infrastructure,” says Glendale, Calif., public works director Steve Zurn, pictured here on a recently renovated portion of the city's central business district. Repaving the area's streets and sidewalks is the first step in attracting additional retailers to locate there. Photo: Keith Skelton/Black Star

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    Public service director Henry Guzmán and 311 call center manager Catrina Whitlock stand in Columbus, Ohio's 311 Call Center. Residents can call the one-stop customer service center for all their city-related questions and problems. Photo: Denis LaRoche

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    After hurricanes like Katrina and Wilma, Hollywood, Fla.'s public works department immediately springs into action to clear fallen trees, downed power lines, and other hazards caused by the storms. Photo: City of Hollywood

AND THE RESULTS?

Regardless of how total quality management may (or may not) have worked for U.S. companies, it's working for Glendale.

Besides earning top honors from our judges, here are a few of the specific accomplishments that have come out of the department's approach. The checklist is impressive.

Environmentally friendly operations that reduce waste and contribute to city revenues?Check. (The department sells methane generated by one of its two landfills to Glendale Water and Power, which uses it to produce 6% of the city's electricity; the department's newly constructed recycling center site includes facilities that remove trash, fine sediment, oil, and grease from stormwater flows before they're discharged from the site.)

Experience with alternative fuel?Check. (The department's tested vehicles run on electricity, ethanol, methanol, propane, and bio-diesel; in addition to its transit bus fleet, which runs on compressed natural gas (CNG), the department is buying CNG-powered street sweepers and refuse trucks.)

Employees who are expected not only to contribute, but are empowered to do so?Check. (Each Integrated Waste Management Division crew member is assigned a neighborhood to patrol for abandoned items like discarded furniture, mattresses, and appliances.)

Encouraging employees to advance their careers?Check. (Each year, Zurn nominates employees for a special supervisory-certification program offered through the city's continuing-education network.)

Exposing youth to potential careers?Check. (Every summer, the department hosts at least two college interns; several divisions have hired employees who were trained through a citywide jobs program for youth aged 14 to 21.)

A National Incident Management System-compliant disaster-recovery plan that integrates public works with other first-responders?Check. (In May, employees received a week's worth of training on organizing Community Emergency Response Teams; public works participated in a joint first-responder effort with the cities of Burbank and Pasadena to develop a pandemic preparedness plan.)

Technologically savvy?Check. (The department used geographic information system data to recover 94% of the cost of repairing a mile-long stretch of road wiped out by a landslide late last year.)

Open lines of communication with other city agencies to ensure infrastructure issues are addressed?Check. (Public works participates in all applicable interdepartmental planning committees.)

Strong constituent relations?Check. (Zurn gives presentations to all types of community groups; the department's community outreach associate manages communication with the city and residents during capital projects—see page 24.)

And, finally, outstanding financial planning and oversight?Check. (The department completes each fiscal year at or under budget.)

THE BOTTOM LINE

In addition to providing the department and its employees with sharply defined, measurable goals that tie into a unifying vision, the process of constantly evaluating its work has paid off in unexpected ways.

Although his department's efforts have been encouraged by city leaders who have historically provided stellar support and fiscal management, Zurn says the benchmarking requirements of a quality improvement process—that of comparing your systems to those of similar organizations—“help us tell our council a very real story about where we are and what we need.”

For example, the department uses repair-cost-per-mile and per-capita cost comparisons from surrounding city, county, state, and national agencies to put repair costs into perspective for city officials.

“It's been very effective,” says Zurn. “We have council members who are devotees of public infrastructure.”

And that, perhaps, is the best possible outcome a public works manager could hope for.

— Stephanie Johnston