Launch Slideshow

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Great Expectations

Great Expectations

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    SAY IT OUT LOUDChristine Andersen, PEPublic works directorSanta Barbara, Calif.

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    ALL OR NOTHINGHarry WeedSuperintendent of public worksRockville Centre, N.Y.

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    ALL IN THE FAMILYRonald Calkins, PEDirector of public worksVentura, Calif.

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    POWER TO THE EMPLOYEEScott Elmer, PEDirector of public works and city engineerMissouri City, Texas

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    MAINTAINING THE STRIPLeslie Henley, PE, FASCEDeputy director of public worksClark County, Nev.

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    CLOSING THE GENERATION GAPDwayne Kalynchuk, M. Eng., P. EngGeneral manager of environmental servicesCapital Regional District, Victoria, British Columbia

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    ONE STEP AHEADSamuel Lamerato, CPFPFleet management superintendentTroy, Mich.

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    SWEET SUCCESSRichard McKinleyPublic works directorBellingham, Wash.

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    BUILDING AN EMERALD CITYJudith MuellerDirector of public worksCharlottesville, Va.

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    STRATEGIC FINANCINGSteven Parkinson, PEPublic works directorPortsmouth, N.H.

“Crew leaders were just higher paid crew members,” says Scott Elmer.

When Elmer was promoted to director of public works in 2006, he realigned the department to empower employees at every level, allowing them to take immediate action—and improve city services. By mid-2007 the new policy was in place.

“Now crew leaders have the authority and the responsibility,” explains Elmer.

For instance, if a public works employee is repairing a pothole and notices that a street sign needs to be replaced, that employee can call the sign division directly. Or if a crew is repairing a curb and a neighbor approaches them about another crumbling curb, the crew can fix that curb immediately. No queues. No waiting.

Elmer encourages a team atmosphere that utilizes employee talents and interests, no matter their division. For instance, a GIS technician heads a team to bring green technologies to the fleet division. “There's not a person in my department with a stronger desire for a green fleet,” says Elmer.

He also believes in matching employee preferences with jobs: “If your employee would rather be out working in the heat, why put him in the air conditioning making signs?”

The crucial step toward empowerment, for Elmer, is communication. He talks to employees and asks key questions, like “what tool would help you get your job done better, faster?”

“If you're not authentic as a leader, and don't take an interest in the people and their jobs, you're not going to get the most that you can out of them,” says Elmer.

Adjusting to a new way of working involves some pretty big attitude shifts by employees, says Elmer. And though he calls the restructuring a work in progress, he also says the department is light years ahead of where it was 18 months ago. Operations are more efficient, and he now receives innovative ideas from employees at all levels.

“Our department has come together as a family, and employees are supportive of each other.”


Leslie Henley understands the economic importance of the Las Vegas Strip—the hotels, casinos, restaurants, and stores that line Las Vegas Boulevard—to the state. So he takes pride in his responsibilities associated with the Strip. He manages the construction and maintenance of award-winning landscaping, pedestrian bridges, elevators, and escalators, plus he manages roadway improvements and repairs, and street sweeping.

In his more than 17 years of service with one of the nation's fastest-growing counties, he has delivered more than 600 projects in excess of $1.5 billion. Among his accomplishments are a 53-mile, $800 million freeway facility passing through three other jurisdictions; and the development of vehicle-arresting barriers for Las Vegas Boulevard to protect large, special-event crowds from terrorist-type events.

Projects built under Henley's tenure have earned numerous awards, including the APWA Nevada Chapter “Project of the Year”; Institute of Transportation Engineers Intermountain Section “Transportation of the Year”; American Society of Landscape Architects “Landscape Project of the Year”; and Precast Concrete Association “Pre-cast Project of the Year.”

“Les reminds us that, because of where we work, we get to do things that no one else experiences,” says Bobby Shelton, the department's public information officer. “Frequent building implosions, billion-dollar resort construction projects, and the biggest New Year's Eve party in the world just add to the fun.”