Curt Spannraft

Name: Julia Bueren
Title: Public Works Director
Where: Contra Costa County, Calif.
Population: 1.1 million
What: 480 employees maintain 660 miles of roads; 150 miles of streams, channels, and other drainage facilities; and 93 buildings.
Operating budget: $155 million
Capital budget: $47 million

Julia Bueren was promoted to public works director at the height of California’s financial chaos in 2008. With the state near bankruptcy, she worked to make sure Contra Costa County’s funding — dedicated restricted funds, developer fees, fees for service, and grants — would continue, and that they’d be used for their specified purposes. An extremely active member of the County Engineers Association of California, she pushed legislators to give locals their share of the state budget, particularly for transportation.

“We’re doing much better, but it’s been a long, slow recovery,” she says.

Yet she’s proudest of her role in developing the county’s current public works team. When she was appointed director, Bueren updated the department’s strategic plan by getting input from employees at all levels, all divisions, and all functions. The result was a Balanced Scorecard centered around five focus areas: Finances, Customer Services, Safety, Organization Health, and Environment. This approach enables employees to track their efforts and shape their priorities against overall department goals.

Bueren started with the county 32 years ago as an entry-level civil engineer and got to see many aspects of public works through the county’s engineer rotation program. “It gives you an opportunity to see civil engineering throughout public works and see where your strengths are,” she says. Her main goal is to continue to build a good team and provide good customer service.