New Orleans Public Works Director Robert Mendoza runs seven miles every morning. It's perfect training for the endurance test that's been his life since taking over traffic engineering, parking, and street maintenance after Category-5 Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005.
When I visited in February, he and his wife were still living in an apartment while contractors put the finishing touches on repairs to their flood-ravaged home. In just one day, I witnessed the monumental force of will required to conceptualize, sell, and shepherd reconstruction projects that represent the best use of federal and local taxpayer dollars.
Among other calendar items that day, Mendoza gathered representatives of two engineering firms, the gas company, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and his department to coordinate street and pipeline repairs; drove to the local television station for a live Q&A about why crews would begin towing rather than ticketing cars parked in street-cleaning routes; and helped a department head strategize a plan for buying new equipment.
Last month, having hammered out under what conditions FEMA will reimburse the work, public works finally began patching sidewalks, curbs, and driveway aprons at almost 20,000 locations along minor streets. The $42.8 million project could take up to two years to complete.
And everyone wonders why “basic” repairs take so long. Even if they understood the skill with which Mendoza navigates the system on the city's behalf, residents and tourists wouldn't appreciate it.
This, of course, represents the life of every PUBLIC WORKS reader. And it's why I'm particularly delighted that our September 2007 cover story on Mendoza, Parks and Parkways Director Ann Macdonald, Sanitation Department Director Veronica White, and Sewerage and Water Board Director Marcia St. Martin was awarded second place in the “individual/organization profile” category last month by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, a group analogous to the American Public Works Association (APWA). With the APWA meeting this month in New Orleans, attendees will see the fruits of their efforts to bring back this venerable city despite severe labor shortages and miles of red tape.
The accomplishments of these dedicated men and women are extreme examples of what you do every day. This article caught judges' attention because it captured the lives of government employees whose work is largely taken for granted. Until they read it, the judges had probably never gotten a first-hand look at the actual human beings behind the ubiquitous term “rebuilding New Orleans.”
So we're proud that our profile did indeed raise awareness of your valuable but under-appreciated role, and hope you feel we “did you proud.”
Editor in Chief