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La Grange Park, Ill., chief water operator Rick Radde (second from left) took third place in last year's “Roadeo” competition sponsored by the Chicago Metro chapter of the American Public Works Association. Also pictured: Laura Nali, assistant to the public works director in Libertyville; Arlington Heights public works director Scott Shirley; and Dave Lawry, Elgin's general services director. Photo: Joel Koenig

Julius Hansen has an infectious enthusiasm that gets even a cynic like me excited about things.

When we met last year at a meeting of the American Public Works Association's Chicago Metro chapter, he'd just completed his master's degree in public administration at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. For his thesis, he orchestrated the development of online payment for the 14,000 residents of La Grange Park, Ill., to charge up to $400 in water and sewer bills. His crews were shutting off water to almost 20 customers a month, an activity they dreaded.

“If we offer a credit card, at least we're doing everything we can—short of giving it away—to let them continue service,” he said. “So now we're only shutting off about two or three customers a month.”

Great idea! A small but powerful example of how to serve the public while continuing to bring in revenue.

I called him later in the year to invite him to the chapter's Christmas luncheon, but he was already signed up (see caption). I commented on an article I'd seen in the local paper, a front-page story with photo about his department's pavement-preservation initiative using RejuvTec Inc.'s Reclamite. In August, 4.5 of the suburb's 35 miles of streets were treated with the rejuvenating agent at $7000/mile.

“This stuff is great: You apply it, it sinks into the asphalt, and makes the first half-inch or so bend instead of break,” he said. “I guess more public works departments don't do it because of the hassle.”

Oh?

“You have to shut down the street, so residents grumble. It has to cure for 24 hours, so we had to delay application for a day due to bad weather. And of course the reporter wanted to know why we were treating relatively new pavement.”

Well, the reporter got it right: preserving good pavement now costs taxpayers far less than replacing battered pavement later.

Then Hansen said something that's always music to my ears.

“There are so many things I'd like to write for the magazine. Like all this ‘green' stuff. Did you hear we're the first department in the area to try out a solar street light [a Solarpath Inc. ML-40/60/80]? There was an electrical power line hanging so close to a resident's balcony she could reach out and touch it.”

I can see why that would be a problem.

“So we asked our vendor what we could do. They've never installed anything like that because solar-powered lights are typically used in parking lots. [Solarpath says its products last five times longer than battery-based products.] But if it works, think how much energy would be saved if public works departments across the country did it!”

The electric companies wouldn't be too happy about that.

“Oh. Them.”

Stephanie Johnston
Editor in Chief, PUBLIC WORKS Magazine,
sjohnston@hanleywood.com