Stephanie Johnston, Editor in Chief
Stephanie Johnston, Editor in Chief

Whatever it's paying him, New Jersey's Lakewood Township is getting more than its money's worth from public works director John Franklin.

At age 65, after serving 10 consecutive terms on the township's governing board and five years as mayor, Franklin was hired to reorganize its 106-employee, $10 million Public Works Division. His primary order of business: replace the township's woefully outdated public works facility.

Nestled between two lakes and surrounded by pine barrens, Lakewood Township had been a resort community catering to stressed-out New Yorkers since the 1920s. Decades later, the township began condemning land for redevelopment. It now boasts one of New Jersey's largest industrial parks, where 350 local, national, and international companies provide thousands of jobs.

The redevelopment and the population growth accompanying it have expanded the township's supporting role as well. When its first public works facility was built in 1958, Lakewood Township's population was about 15,000. Today it's 80,000. Between 2000 and 2005, the miles of streets the public works division maintains nearly doubled to 217.

Luckily for Lakewood Township, Franklin's first career was in construction. While serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Korea, he learned to operate everything from a bulldozer to a road grader. He's been a jobsite superintendent for a commercial construction company and owned his own construction company.

So when a hilly and wooded 25-acre site was designated for the new public works facility, Franklin used his construction expertise to mentally map out a six-building campus that takes advantage of the site's topography. Then he hired an engineer and an architect to draw plans for bidding out the project based on his layouts. His crew began preparing the site in May 2005.

In the meantime, the township initiated a $23 million bond proposal. Even though he'd been actively involved in the township's governance, Franklin says his greatest challenge was proving the new facility's design and justifying its cost to his former governing body colleagues.

On Aug. 1, the John J. Franklin Public Works Complex opened—approximately $1 million under budget. Franklin and his crew are using the leftover funds to install additional vehicle lifts, cabinetry, and storage for the fleet.

Like Franklin, many of you got your start in construction before coming into public works, where you use that experience to define and manage contracts and propose innovative solutions. Many of you are also less than a decade from retiring, and the generation moving into your positions—though it may boast more formal education—often can't rely on the same experienced-based expertise. What will our communities do when they no longer have such well-rounded public servants?

If you have young men or women on your staff, give them experience in as many different areas under your watchful eye as you can. Mentor them, groom them, let them learn, help them learn. Expose them to the entire public works arena—and we'll be far better able to carry on when you've stepped down.