The Chesapeake Department of Public Works emphasizes on-the-job education, safety training, and cultivating a welcoming work environment. From left: Ali Asgharpour, operations manager; Eric Martin, city engineer; Richard Broad, stormwater administrator; Ted Garty, streets administrator; Anne-Marie Amiel, internal services administrator; Ted Garty, streets administrator; Andy Winz, GIS manager; Angela Hilton, administrative assistant III; Jill Mergen, expressway toll operation manager; and Tammy Barry, public information specialist. Photo: Tammy Barry

Once someone joins the Chesapeake Public Works Department, they never seem to want to leave.

Of the 500 employees on staff, nearly 100 have been there 20 years or more. If you want to know why, ask Jerry Ivory.

Ivory joined the department's bridges and structures group a week after high-school graduation. From there, he moved up the ranks, jumping over to waste management, where he now works as operations superintendent. His service to the city has stretched to nearly 35 years—about two-thirds of his life. A big reason for his long tenure is the department's dedication to professional development.

“I've had some excellent mentors, administrators who saw something in the way that would prove positive for the city,” he says. “I've had fun, but the professionalism that's been shown to me kept me here.”

Part of the professionalism Ivory speaks of involves training. Our judges singled out Chesapeake for an Honorable Mention because of the department's commitment to training, whether it be new-employee orientation, safety training for field crews, or the flagger training that each employee—from secretary to superintendent—receives to prepare for emergencies.

Public works director Patricia Biegler, PE, leads the charge in ensuring that each employee is well-versed on the ins and outs of the department's operation.

“To get the most out of people, you have to provide them with the right tools,” says Biegler. “There's nothing worse than being expected to do a job when you don't know what's expected of you.”

Employment starts with a full day of orientation. Each new employee learns how the department is organized, the services each branch performs, and the agency's core mission and vision. Then, they learn about top-priority city and department regulations, personnel issues, customer service, and safety programs. Job-specific training comes soon after.

Safety is not taken lightly in Chesapeake. In addition to general safety training, all field employees are required to hold current certification in adult CPR and automated external defibrilator operation. Then, depending on the specific job, employees might learn how to identify and deal with hazardous waste, work safely in confined spaces, negotiate traffic work zones, remediate chemical spills, and avoid injury from falls. In February, safety officer Pandora Allen received a Training Program Award from the local American Public Works Association chapter.

Once a year, the entire staff gathers for the Chesapeake First Conference, during which employees share concerns related to their jobs. The program is such a hit that infrastructure managers in surrounding communities are looking to duplicate it.