Dena Mezger
Dena Mezger

Director of Public Works
Lee's Summit, Mo.
Employees: 100
Population Served: 95,000
Budget: $12.5 million

Dena Mezger joined Lee’s Summit, Mo., public works department almost 20 years ago as senior staff engineer. If she didn’t know much about how stormwater is regulated, she could now write a book.

Almost from her first day, she’s shepherded efforts to improve water quality in a city that, like many, spent proportionally more on sewer maintenance than caring for 262 miles of pipes and box culverts; 12,000 inlets and manholes; and three detention basins. As department liaison to city council and citizen stormwater committees and task forces, she’s worked with residents, developers, other city employees, and consultants to develop a comprehensive management program from scratch.

Be honest with officials, even when the news isn’t good.

That’s involved writing a stormwater ordinance for elected officials to approve and negotiating two National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) Phase II permits that bring projects of their own. More recently, it involves replacing and/or rehabilitating at least 116 miles of corrugated metal pipe that’s corroding in the city’s acidic soil.

Before Mezger came to Lee’s Summit, voters had approved tax increases to fund other infrastructure improvements. Mitigating chronic flooding required public works to ask residents and businesses to part with more hard-earned dollars. Mezger’s educational campaign on how no tax increase bonds work led to “yes” votes for bond initiatives in 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2014.

Not all of that money is earmarked for water infrastructure.

Lee’s Summit is part of the fast-growing Kansas City metropolitan area, which impacts the city’s transportation network.

Mezger’s working with colleagues from neighboring cities and counties as well as the state DOT and local metropolitan planning organization to build a regional transportation system for a nine-county area spanning two states. The most recent fruits of these labors for Lee’s Summit are local interchange improvements that will open 300 acres of developable land and facilitate regional connectivity.

The 1977 Kansas State University civil engineering graduate believes the best way to establish an excellent working relationship with elected and appointed officials is through timely and accurate communications.

“Community officials want to know that we’re truthful and knowledgeable,” she says. “Credibility and trust are built on being responsive, open and honest (even when the information may not be what’s desired), and making sure information is correct.”

Because she considers “winging it” a waste of everyone’s precious time, she prepares for potential questions ahead of time.