R. Kevin Clark, Editor, APWA Reporter, and Laura Bynum, Communications/Media Relations Manager, American Public Works Association
Maybe it was the hard work of the Chicago Metro Chapter and all of their great volunteers that made it all possible. Maybe our visitors from around the country and the world just couldn’t get enough of the magic that Chicago has to offer. Then again, it could have been the homecoming atmosphere as our annual show returned to the roots of APWA’s foundation in 1937. Or, quite possibly, people just love listening to the “Blues Brothers.”
Whatever the reasons, the attendees at this year’s International Public Works Congress & Exposition had a terrific time—many saying it was the best Congress they had attended in years. The more than 160 educational sessions, 87,000 square feet of exhibit space, inspiring General Session speakers, and fun networking events contributed to an enthusiasm in the attendees that was truly contagious. And with the Chicago Metro Chapter and their many dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers providing professional support during the conference, work, pleasure and camaraderie combined to make it all come together for the APWA Congress in the Windy City.
In an APWA tradition, the Friday and Saturday before the official start of Congress, on Sunday, August 25, were nearly as busy as the Congress itself. On Friday the Board of Directors, their spouses and other volunteers took part in a community service project at the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva, Illinois. The team worked hard during the day packing boxes of meats and vegetables for those in need. “I worked with [Board member] Rick Stinson on packing boxes with large meats over five pounds such as whole chickens, turkeys, ribs and ham,” said Cora Jackson-Fossett, APWA Director-at-Large, Leadership and Management. “Other teams loaded various-sized frozen meats on our table.” APWA advocates for the future of our communities, and charitable events like these always bring that message home in a personal way for our leadership and valued members.
On Saturday the House of Delegates held their annual Business Meeting and discussed the current House refocus initiative, providing feedback to the House Refocus Task Force as they continue their work crafting the “new” House. Also, a full-day workshop took place regarding “Self Assessment Using the Public Works Management Practices Manual.” The Technical Committees held meetings to shape their yearly business plans, and the exhibitors continued their move-in to the exhibit hall, and setting up their booths to prepare for thousands of visitors.
Congress officially began the following morning with the 17th annual First-Timers Meeting with nearly 200 attendees. This special meeting gives attendees the chance to learn simple strategies for using their time and opportunities productively at their first Congress. New APWA President Edward A. Gottko opened up the meeting by stressing the value of attending Congress. “You will find, as I found a long time ago, this is probably one of the most beneficial number of days you will spend at any event,” Gottko said. “It is an opportunity for you to network, learn, and take information back to your communities. Make sure that you take full advantage of everything that’s out there.”
Also, APWA Executive Director Peter B. King discussed the Congress Program & Show Guide, as well as the convenient APWA 2013 mobile app that tracked the schedule of sessions and events during the show. King also mentioned that in addition to the formal program which is a very important part of Congress, the value of the informal part cannot be underestimated. “One of the things that I’ve found over the years is that public works participants at APWA activities will drop everything when they get a question from a colleague,” King said. “So make those connections, and as you leave Congress on Wednesday, I hope that you’ll take a number of e-mail addresses, names and faces with you to make those connections.”
Business meetings and educational sessions followed covering current topics such as the sustainable building program tool; funding-to-construction; green streets and porous pavements; and the latest tools for your winter maintenance arsenal.
At Sunday’s Opening General Session in McCormick Place Lakeside Center’s Arie Crown Theater, a packed house of Congress attendees listened to the Smiley Tillmon Band along with Tony Award-nominated vocalist Felicia Fields and the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. After the opening music, fifteen countries were recognized for sending representatives from across the globe to the annual Congress. These countries included Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Finland, Guam, Korea, New Zealand, Nigeria, Palau, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and of course, the United States of America.
President Elizabeth Treadway began by thanking the APWA membership for the privilege of serving as their president for the past year. She then discussed the theme “Engineering Change” of this year’s conference. “As we have moved through the end of the 20th century into the 21st, the concept of change has been all around us,” she said. “We’re seventy-five years moving into seventy-six, and if you think about what has transpired over that time it is absolutely amazing. The pace at which change is coming at us today is in fact daunting, a little frightening, but believe it or not we’ve got a lot of youngsters out here who understand the technology and the challenges that are in front of us as well. So I’m delighted to see lots of young people in the audience today, because it is their legacy and their generation that will pick up the mantle of change and really bring us forward in the 21st century.”
After the traditional passing of the presidential gavel, the new President, Ed Gottko, noted that much has happened to engineer change in the field of public works and in the APWA organization itself. One of the most impactful changes to the latter was the development and implementation of the APWA Donald C. Stone Center for Leadership Excellence in Public Works, offering world-class educational opportunities and providing the very best resources for our membership. Gottko also stressed the importance of being adaptable to change, mentioning recent changes in how the APWA Board of Directors operates. “Five years ago, here in Chicago, the Board of Directors met to begin a plan to strategically change how the Board operates, and how the focus of the Board would change from receiving reports to focusing on strategic initiatives. Out of those discussions grew ideas and thoughts on how we provide services to our members. We are an educational association. Our prime focus is education, something of which I am very passionate about. My whole career as an engineer, as a public works director, as a city manager, and as a private consultant has always focused around education.” (For President Gottko’s entire speech at the Opening General Session, please see page 2 in this issue.)
The Opening General Session’s Keynote Speaker, best-selling author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, highlighted for attendees his views on the engines of change in the U.S., and how globalization and advances in technology have taken us from a society of connectedness to “hyper-connectedness.” Friedman cited robotics and developments in artificial intelligence as two areas where technology is enhancing basic services that humans have traditionally received from other humans, citing industries such as legal services, phone services, restaurants and a wide array of white and blue collar jobs.
Friedman also emphasized to attendees that the age of “average” is officially over. “What was average work ten years ago is below average today and will be further below average ten years from now,” he said. “Think of the world as one big classroom being graded on a curve. Well, that curve is steadily rising as more brainpower and computing power and robotic power enters the classroom. As a result, everyone needs to raise his or her game just to stay in place, let alone get ahead of other workers. What was an average performance in the past will not earn an average grade, an average wage, or a middle-class standard of living.”
On Sunday evening after the first day of the 2013 Congress, hundreds of attendees, volunteers, and exhibitors attended the annual Get Acquainted Party held at Soldier Field, the celebrated home of the Chicago Bears. The opening event, hosted by the Chicago Metro Chapter, featured great food and drink, and gave attendees the opportunity to hear some live Chicago blues from the “Blues Brothers” and their musical cast of characters.
The second official day of APWA’s 2013 Congress brought together hundreds of attendees for Monday’s General Session featuring Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner, Gabe Klein, who was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May 2011. Presenting in the Arie Crown Theater, Klein explained Chicago’s new strategy to rebuild infrastructure as “A Whole New Ball Game: Chicago’s Infrastructure Planning.”
Speaking about the “Chicago Forward” initiative, Klein began by saying, “When I came in after the mayor hired me in May of 2011, we needed to align our vision and we needed to work internally within the agency to figure out how we could accomplish as much as possible in as little time as possible. And so, as I did in Washington, D.C., we put together the ‘Chicago Forward’ agenda. This is a road map towards achieving the mayor’s vision through concrete, measurable steps in the realm of transportation that includes better construction, great public spaces, safer streets, and support for neighborhood and global business as well. ‘Chicago Forward’ really outlines those critical values and principles that we aspire to as the protectors of the city’s transportation network, as well as the policies and actions that will help us continually make progress towards those ideals.”
Much of Klein’s presentation focused on improvements to transportation safety in Chicago. “We are redesigning our streets for safety,” he said, “and we’ve actually looked at all of the zones around schools and parks. There are eighteen hundred schools and parks in the city, and we know that we’ve got a traffic safety problem. We’ve got fifty safety zones that we implemented over the last year with a lot of different infrastructure improvements. We already have the largest red light enforcement program in the United States, and it’s been very successful with a seventy-three percent reduction in pedestrian fatalities. The idea is to change the way people view the city and how you can drive. We also know that proactive traffic enforcement makes roads safer, reduces traditional crime, and improves the quality of life in neighborhoods.”
The General Session was followed by targeted educational sessions throughout the rest of the day addressing many various public works topics including asset management and capital planning for infrastructure; partnering to achieve green infrastructure goals; and total resource management. Upstairs in the exhibit hall, the Exhibitor Solutions Theater featured presentations on a diverse range of topics including Operations Management: The Missing Piece of Your Enterprise; How to Implement GPS; Going Green with Hot-in-Place Recycling; and Impact of Unwanted Vegetation on Municipal Infrastructure.
At 2:00 p.m., the Public Works Stormwater Summit began with the first day of the two-day session, featuring moderator Paul Hindman, P.E., PWLF, Chair of the APWA Water Resources Committee and Executive Director, Urban Drainage & Flood Control District, Denver, Colo. Speakers included Connie Bosma, Municipal Branch Chief, Water Permits Division, Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., who outlined the intended outcomes of the draft NPDES regulations covering Municipal Separate Storm Sewers (MS4). Expert panelists looked ahead to consider the impacts of anticipated changes to current regulations.
Later in the afternoon, the APWA Donald C. Stone Center for Leadership Excellence in Public Works announced the first graduates of the Public Works Executive and Public Works Manager programs during the APWA DCS Center’s 2013 Awards Ceremony. Awarding these honors for the first time represented an important milestone in the development of the APWA credentialing program. The Public Works Leadership Fellow (PWLF) designation awards were also presented to 56 senior executive public works professionals. “The DCS candidates who have completed these rigorous programs have developed their skills to effectively lead and implement change to move their organizations forward,” said APWA Executive Director Peter B. King. “The Public Works Manager (PWM) program is for mid-level and emerging leaders who focus on all functions within public works, and how the functions work together as a system. And the Public Works Executive (PWE) program addresses the strategic aspects of public works.”
The Monday Awards Ceremony and Reception started at 5:00 p.m. in the Arie Crown Theater. The annual Awards Program recognizes the outstanding individuals, groups and chapters representing the best in public works. The exciting evening began with APWA President Ed Gottko, who opened the ceremony, celebrating the accomplishments of all the honorees.
The awards included the Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year awards, recognizing the excellence and dedication of outstanding career service achievements of individual public works professionals and officials. Other awards included the Young Leader Award, followed by the graduation awards of the APWA Emerging Leaders Academy, the Sustainability Practices Awards, the Professional Managers of the Year Awards, the Charles Walter Nichols Award for Environmental Excellence, the APWA Presidential Leadership Award presented by immediate Past President Elizabeth Treadway, the Harry S. Swearingen Award for Outstanding Chapter Achievement and Excellence in Chapter Service, and other exceptional performance awards, as well as the APWA Public Works Projects of the Year.
The day closed out at 8:00 p.m. with the Young Professionals Networking Reception where the APWA members under age 35 got together to meet and socialize with other young public works professionals.
On Tuesday, August 27, the first APWA Congress session was the Small Cities/Rural Communities (SCRC) Town Meeting at 7:30 a.m. Following that, Congress attendees headed for the Tuesday Opening General Session at 8:30 a.m., featuring reality-based leadership best-selling author, Cy Wakeman. Wakeman discussed how to “Ditch the Drama and Turn Excuses into Results,” emphasizing the importance of reality-based rules for the workplace focusing on leadership, employee value, and accountability in achieving needed results in the work environment.
Wakeman discussed the “How Can I Help” mentality for employees in the workplace, an approach that emphasizes empathy, rather than sympathy. She stressed that the organization should focus on fewer meetings and more trust, and especially in trying times—the importance of leading first and managing second. She also stressed that organizational change is an important feature of the workplace, and that people need to get behind change to capitalize on it. Her focus is primarily on a reality-based work environment in which you lead others to deliver results, and give benefits to those who do.
Wakeman spent a portion of the session discussing the importance of teamwork. “A fundamental role of a manager is to make sure people are following the processes,” she said. “After that, personal accountability is necessary to drive a team to better business results by providing accurate feedback on a process first-hand. If we assume everyone is accountable on a broad level, we inadvertently create a situation where no one is accountable on an individual level. That is part of a recipe for losing.”
After the General Session, educational sessions followed throughout the day, addressing such topics as City Art Re-imaging the St. Paul City Systems; Collaborating to Retrofit Communities; Customer Service You can App-reciate; and Executive Level Leadership. Upstairs in the exhibit hall, the Exhibitor Solutions Theater featured more presentations including Understanding and Utilizing Bio-Based Solutions for Public Works; Rubberized Asphalt Pavement Technologies; and What is Sabotaging Our Underground Systems and How Do We Fight Back?
The second day of the two-day Public Works Stormwater Summit session presented speakers focused on three case studies highlighting best practices in local stormwater management. The presentations included It Takes A Village – Systems Approach to Water Quality Permit Compliance from Fairfax County, Va.; the Stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs): Develop a Plan, from the City of Lenexa, Kans.; and Breaking Down TMDLs – Are They Really the Problem? from Greenville County, S.C.
Later in the afternoon, more educational sessions followed on topics such as Chicago’s Bicycle Program; How to Innovate in Public Works; What Gets Measured Gets Done – Performance Standards for Solid Waste Management; and Workforce Diversity: Recruiting and Retaining Minorities and the Disadvantaged.
Following the afternoon educational sessions, Tuesday evening was highlighted with many chapter dinners at area restaurants, giving Congress attendees a more literal taste of Chicago.
Wednesday’s Closing General Session provided a real treat for football fans in general and Chicago Bears fans in particular. The keynote speaker was NFL Hall of Famer and Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Ditka, who played for the Bears for five years and returned later as head coach to lead them to six NFC Central titles, three NFC championship appearances, and the Super Bowl XX title. Boasting a career that few can match, Ditka is one of only two people to win the Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach, and head coach.
With a presentation entitled “ACE: Attitude, Character and Enthusiasm,” Ditka delivered a powerful message highlighting the key characteristics people need to achieve their personal and professional goals. Ditka used his own experiences as a player and a coach to share uplifting and motivational stories with the attendees. He later participated in a terrific Q&A session including discussions of some of the best players and coaches he ever worked with.
“If you’re a CEO or a president or a coach, you have to define your game plan,” Ditka said to the audience members. “You’ve got to have a game plan, then you’ve got to get the right people and you have to execute that game plan. And it’s not always going to work. You’re going to fail some of the time. But if you don’t have the right people, you’ve got to replace them with the right people. If I’m the CEO of any company, I want team players. I want guys who understand that they want to achieve individually, but they also want to make the team better. When you find people like that you can’t miss.”
All in all, the 2013 International Public Works Congress & Exposition was exhilarating, impactful and an important opportunity to share the best solutions to challenges encountered every day by public works professionals. Now it’s time to carry that enthusiasm and value up to our neighbors in the north. Start making plans today to attend the 2014 Congress in Toronto, Ontario, August 17-20, 2014. Save the dates, and reach out to our APWA team to find ways you can participate actively to benefit your own department and career. Congress just seems to get better and better every year, so if you haven’t yet been to one of our annual shows, be sure to come to the beautiful city of Toronto and find out for yourself.