The 83rd Annual Academy Awards — also known as the Oscars — took place less than a month ago, and I'm kind of bummed. Film studios spent a fortune publicizing The Social Network, The Fighter, True Grit, and the other movies that were nominated for the Rolls Royce of cinema-related recognition. They emphasized how well their candidate's screenplay, cinematography, and score combine to reveal an elemental truth about the human condition, etc., etc., yada, yada, yada.

What's award-winning moviemaking got to do with public works? Well, I'll tell you.

I'd like to think we here at PUBLIC WORKS are equally adept storytellers, a notion that was vindicated several years ago when we submitted our August 2008 cover story for the Oscars of magazine publishing.

The article — “Security risk: focusing on service in a cynical world” — used a tragedy to illustrate how dangerous your profession can be. Earlier that year, a contractor stormed a city council meeting in suburban St. Louis. The five victims included the public works director, who'd served Kirkland, Mo., for 35 years. Most people think police and fire are the most dangerous callings vis-à-vis public service, but public works employees — who interact with residents day in and day out, in the field and at the office — are much more likely to be verbally or physically threatened or hurt.

We'd never submitted an entry for this particular awards program, so although PUBLIC WORKS didn't take home the prize in our category we were thrilled to be one of the top three candidates.

Hey, we're only human. It's nice to be recognized for good work.

Last August's “Rain dance” cover story, however, failed to similarly move the judges. Granted, an article about how a city (in this case, San Diego) is wrestling with regulators over stormwater permitting isn't as dramatic as murder. But in my humble opinion, Albert Einstein himself would have trouble wrapping his head around how we as a nation are attempting to manage this particular consequence of growth. We were proud of the piece.

There's no such thing as a boring subject, only boring writing. So I can't help thinking, Where'd we go wrong? There's more to rain than flooding but, like flooding, someone's got to pay for the clean up. How could anyone not be fascinated by the dilemma inherent in separating runoff into two classes (point and nonpoint) for purposes of controlling pollution? How'd we fail to adequately humanize the issue for an audience — writers and editors of magazines serving industries other than public works — unfamiliar with the philosophical landscape of public infrastructure?

At any rate, I hope your favorite movie won on Feb. 27.

- Stephanie Johnston,
Editor in Chief

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In February, we asked our e-newsletter readers if they support privatizing public assets — such as turnpikes — to help balance budgets. Fifty-three percent of respondents said no while 34% said it would depend. Only 4% support privatizing public assets. The following are what some survey-takers had to say about privatization:

“Some things are for the public good and should not be completely subject to the ‘bottom line' mentality.”

“I've witnessed the leasing of public assets. The lessor does minimal maintenance and walks away when it's no longer a moneymaker — leaving the state with an asset that requires repairs. It's a short-term moneymaker for the state and lessor, but a long-term money taker for the state.”

“The private sector can do a better job at managing assets. They're not restricted by politics/self-serving groups.”

"Contracts have to be written carefully so systems are maintained properly, user rates are fair, and replacement responsibility is clear."