Launch Slideshow

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View from the top

View from the top

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Career chameleon

What do you get when you combine a history major with a master's in theology and a financial analyst? The answer: Daryl Grigsby. The director of public works for Kirkland, Wash., traveled quite a road to get where he is today. He began his career first working for a nonprofit agency that provided employment for developmentally disabled adults, and then performing budget analysis for the city of San Diego, where he discovered his love for the public sector.

"Once there, I saw how interesting and fascinating the work was," he says.

His transition to the public sector spans the last two decades and includes stints as a maintenance operator for the San Diego Water Utilities Department complete with 2,100 miles of both water and sewer mains, deputy director for the department's system division, director of King County's Wastewater and Water and Land Resources Division in Washington state, and director of Seattle's DOT. Grigsby moved up the ranks without a professional engineering degree.

In his current position, Grigsby derives great satisfaction from "Public Works Week," which he introduced in 2005 and has evolved into an interactive program that entertains and educates children about infrastructure.

"Our work impacts people every single day," he says. "We provide clean water, make sure the sidewalks are safe, and see that trash is picked up. We make it possible to live a good, quality life."

Grigsby takes every experience, even mistakes, as an opportunity to learn and grow; and urges new employees to deal with problems instead of hoping they'll resolve themselves on their own.

People pleaser

People — both residents and employees — give Golden, Colo., Public Works Director Dan Hartman pride in his work. "I can't say there are other careers that would've been as rewarding," he says.

"Golden is the type of community where people want to get things done," he says. "For them, it's about accomplishment." One such achievement for Hartman's team is becoming the first community with less than 100,000 residents to receive a Phase II National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit in 2003.

These communal efforts with Hartman at the helm have also resulted in the development of a water system, the construction of a reservoir completed three years ahead of schedule in December 2003, and the development and application of a drainage utility in 1999.

Hartman, who's devoted himself to public works for 30 years, recalls when buying a department fax machine was a big move. "It's no longer about three men, shovels, and a truck," he says of technology's role in improving operational efficiency. "Those days are over."

As someone with plenty of know-how, he advises newcomers to always remember that infrastructure is "critically important and matters greatly."

Vintage Visionary

Despite 42 years of experience derived from his evolution from sanitation worker to director of public works for the 45,000-resident city of Wauwatosa, Wis., William Kappel didn't expect to be added to the APWA's Top Ten ranks.

"It is especially phenomenal for someone from a smaller municipality," he says.

Though the University of Milwaukee graduate received degrees in both psychology and public administration, he wishes he'd at least considered civil engineering. "There's a certain way of thinking that engineers are taught," he says. "I value that thought process." But that hasn't stopped him from making an impact.

His seniority has allowed him to witness how computers and advanced technology have changed the profession. "When I started out, there was a calculator at the desk, and that's it."

He implemented the city's geographic information system (GIS) Web application, which allows any city department, not just public works, access to the Internet- based mobile program. Hosted and maintained by engineering firm Ruekert/Mielke, it uses ESRI's ArcIMS software, and enables each department to pay for upgrades and new layers as they choose. Kappel's department reserves $16,000 in its annual budget for potential additions, such as information on storm and sanitation.

That's a long way from his penciland- paper beginnings.