HOW TO BRAVE CHANGE
McHenry County, Ill., DOT (MCDOT)
Mark DeVries started out as an operator and plow driver for a highway department in Kane County, Ill. He's worked his way up since then. These days, he and his team are responsible for the McHenry County highway system's entire 220 centerline miles and 500 lane miles. He also created a de-icer called Supermix — an enhanced salt brine that combines de-icing chemicals precisely onsite — that he's since introduced to colleagues nationwide and as far away as Europe.
MCDOT Assistant Maintenance Superintendent Edward Markison began working with DeVries in 1991, but distinctly remembers back when he was just summer help in 1984, and saw DeVries on his first day with the department.
“He was an energetic rookie maintenance worker,” says Markison.
Since then, Markison has watched DeVries overcome and embrace changes in the department. DeVries informs employees of a change, whether planned or unplanned, and then empowers them to come up with their own solutions for the challenges that inevitably surface.
“Mark likes to get us to think outside the box,” says Markison.
DeVries practices what he preaches. He helped curtail salt usage by incorporating better equipment, training, and liquid use. He also knew the operation was wasting 30% of pre-wetting liquid by spraying the salt at the spinner rather than on the salt dispensers, and challenged personnel to eliminate the waste. A maintenance employee responded by using PVC tubing to reroute the hosing from the spinner to the spreader — so the salt is coated before it hits the spinner, causing less bounce and waste. All county spreaders are now set up in this manner.
In the mid-90's, tough economic times required eliminating 13 part-time summer jobs. Markison was left with a crew of five workers with no mowing experience. Remembering DeVries' leadership skills, Markison encouraged his staff to come up with new techniques utilizing different equipment.
“As I embrace his approach, I see the trickle-down effect with all levels of staff and the benefits to us all,” he says.