Stephanie Johnston, Editor in Chief
Stephanie Johnston, Editor in Chief

As I drove to the office on a drizzly, cold fall day, I passed two public works crews working at the same intersection. Two young men were wrapping holiday garland and colored lights around street lamps. Another was shoveling piles of wet, soggy leaves out of the gutter into a mulcher.

As I watched them labor, I wondered what impact—if any—last month's elections will have on their employers.

While Democrats have replaced Republicans as the majority party in both houses of Congress, I suspect the net result will be the same regardless of who's in charge: not enough federal support for desperately needed infrastructure reconstruction.

In some states, residents are picking up the slack in funding shortfalls at the federal and state levels. On Nov. 7, voters in 14 states approved bonds, gas-tax increases, and other measures designed to generate $40 billion for transportation work; and Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiatives—which would keep state and local governments from raising taxes or going into debt to fund services—were defeated in Maine, Nebraska, and Oregon.

While such developments indicate we as a society are willing to accept more of the burden for maintaining our public services, chances are your department won't be the beneficiary of this largesse. And anyway, you're probably more concerned about how local politics (incoming council members, a new mayor) are going to affect your short- and long-range plans.

So in the end, nothing's changed. There may be a new regime, but your job remains the same: to do more with less.

That's one reason we launched our annual Department of the Year award program last year: to recognize stellar practitioners of this delicate balancing act. Each year, we assemble a team of public works professionals and industry experts to evaluate their peers on criteria ranging from communications and compliance to innovation and fiscal management. (For details, visit

This month, you'll find our special report on four departments—in California, Connecticut, Florida, and Ohio—that have systematically and meticulously built strong systems and procedures, assembled teams of hard-working and dedicated employees, and provided exceptional support networks for their communities. As you read their stories, you'll see that becoming a Department of the Year doesn't happen overnight.

Perceptive and exceptional public works managers take every opportunity to lay the groundwork for their departments' future successes. It's the little decisions you make every day that lead to long-term growth.

You can do it, too. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. In the wake of your local election, whatever cards the results may have been dealt you, grab any opportunity to become our 2007 Department of the Year.