Bill Vidal—manager of Denver's department of public works—has served in the public sector for more than 30 years. Photo: Patty Weiss
Bill Vidal—manager of Denver's department of public works—has served in the public sector for more than 30 years. Photo: Patty Weiss

As manager of the department of public works in Denver, Guillermo “Bill” Vidal confronts many challenges that are all too common to public works leaders—growing population, aging infrastructure, shrinking budgets. However, he draws upon more than three decades of personal experience and his staff of more than 1500 people in tackling these and other challenges on a daily basis—a job he finds incredibly rewarding.

One notable achievement during his tenure: last year's kickoff of the Denver Strategic Transportation Plan, an ambitious multi-billion-dollar plan that will take a close look at the city's transportation system, develop comprehensive strategies for improvements, and encourage citizens to take advantage of alternative modes of travel.

We asked him a few questions about his city and his job.

What makes your town special?

Denver is an incredible community with tremendous possibilities. It is transitioning from a “cow town” to a major international metropolis. Our latest electoral victory [in November 2004] of the $4.7 billion transit program has changed the future footprint of our city and our region into one that will help us create an integral, transit-oriented development with a multi-modal transportation system. In view of the problems of dependency on oil, pollution, and traffic congestion, I believe we are setting the model for how communities will resolve these problems in the future in a positive manner.

What unique challenges and problems have you faced? How did you deal with them?

Having managed large organizations, I can unequivocally say that the problems are very similar. They usually involve the allocation of resources, creating a safe and enjoyable working environment, establishing a strong vision and mission that unifies the efforts and the importance of all the employees, providing fast and effective service to our citizens, and managing the budget and expenditures in the most efficient and prioritized effort.

The city of Denver is facing severe budget shortfalls that call on every department to reduce their operating, capital, and personnel budgets. I am managing this issue as I always have—being open about it to all the employees so that they can gauge the severity of the situation, ensuring them we will do everything possible to protect their jobs but being realistic about what is possible, seeking their input on how to resolve the issue, and letting them know the plan of action.

What new technology or techniques have you used to make your city more attractive, or to save money?

Clearly, computer technology has made a difference in the workplace with everything from more immediate communication with employees and stakeholders to better and more accurate mapping and development of plans, and greater efficiency. We are working on installing a global positioning system to better locate our vehicles, mobilize the equipment that is closest to the need, and reduce emissions and fuel consumption. We are also converting our fleet to biodiesel as another way to reduce consumption.

We are converting our recycling program to “single stream” recycling. This will enable us to automate our pickup operations and allow us to reduce the number of staff and number of vehicles and routes. We are also increasing the allowable materials to be recycled. This will increase our ability to sell more recyclable material, reduce the amount of trash we haul to the landfill, and thereby reduce our tipping fees.

What's the best part of your job?

I enjoy the fact that a public works department resolves so many problems for our citizens. I get a tremendous sense of pride and fulfillment that what we are doing not only provides for our citizens today, but it also helps to build a greater future for our community.

Denver at a glance

Population: 555,000

Location: north-central capital of Colorado

Annual public works budget: $860.55 million (2006)

Miles of streets: 1700

Fun fact: The Denver Parks Department grows 240,000 flowers a year in their own greenhouse, planting them in 506 flower beds throughout the city. If laid end to end, these plants would stretch for 56 miles. Source: