Hillsborough County Public Works Department hosts APWA/AMMAC international exchange visitors

Bernardo Garcia
Public Works Director
Hillsborough County, Tampa, Florida

During the week of November 19-24, 2002, the Hillsborough County, Florida Public Works Department hosted a series of operations workshops and facility tours for a delegation of public service and academic leaders from the Republic of Mexico. This historic binational information exchange was for me the achievement of a goal I have worked toward throughout my professional career.

I am a Hispanic engineer who grew up in southern Texas. Several of my public works posts have been in Texas and its sister border states of New Mexico and California (San Diego County). Because of that background, I have become particularly attuned to and concerned about the sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good relationship between Mexico and the United States as it relates to the sharing of ideas, technologies and professional information in the public works arena.

So, at a meeting five years ago in Denver, Colorado, I took the opportunity to do something about it. I was introduced to Oscar Vega, Director for the Asociacion de Municipios de Mexico, A.C. (AMMAC), and to former federal Mexican Senator Oscar Rivas. I proposed to them an international exchange program of public works directors and managers. Over numerous pieces of correspondence and telephone calls, we developed an agreed-upon approach for conducting the exchange program. APWA’s International Affairs Committee expressed strong support and great enthusiasm when I submitted the program to its members.

Thus, with support from both sides of the international border, we kicked the exchange program off in March 2001 with a visit by International City/County Management Association (ICMA) representatives to the City of San Luis de Potosi in the State of San Luis Potosi. We gave and received very interesting presentations on a variety of topics, including Mexican approaches to infrastructure inventories, public works operations, street lighting, street and park maintenance, water supply, and landfill operations. We also toured a number of public works facilities from Rio Verde on the south to Metehuala on the north. I developed from these meetings a better understanding of the urgent public service needs in Mexico, which in turn helped me to better organize our later presentations in Tampa.

In May 2002 several APWA members, including APWA President Richard Ridings and myself, attended the AMMAC Congress in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico. Members of our APWA delegation gave presentations at the Congress on management techniques, infrastructure inventories and street maintenance, among other topics. We were pleased to have as speakers not only the Governor of the State of Hidalgo, but also several Secretaries from federal agencies within Mexico.

In June 2002 I was privileged to host Hugo Fernandez-Bernal, the Municipal President (Mayor) of Cordoba, Mexico on a visit to Tampa. He had previously served as the Director of Public Services for Cordoba, and was therefore well versed on public works topics. He is an architect who graduated from the Institute of Technology and Special Studies in Monterrey (ITESM), Mexico, which is considered the “MIT” of Mexico. In addition to our talks about the upcoming visit to Tampa of the Mexican delegation, we discussed areas in which President Fernandez-Bernal felt input and assistance from American public works professionals would be most appreciated by their Mexican counterparts. Based upon our discussions, he agreed to send his Director of Public Services, Jorge Rivas, to participate in the exchange program.

We approached the November 2002 meetings with great anticipation and hope for a productive interchange of ideas. Our guests included Victor Arredondo, the President of University of Veracruz, Mexico, a university with over 60,000 students, who had already traveled to Tampa in September to discuss including some of the Veracruz professors in the exchange program. Dr. Arredondo also shared with me some of the special programs he has developed to connect the university with local communities, industry, and the commercial sector.

Our November guests also included Jose A. Tello, the Dean of the College of Civil Engineering; Dr. Mauricio Arredondo, Assistant Dean; and Professor Sergio Amante Haddad, a Cornell University alumnus. Jorge Rivas represented Cordoba, Veracruz. The delegation from Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, included the Director of Public Works and Services, Jose Luis Leon; its Planning & Growth Manager, Victor Arroyo; Stormwater Manager, Luis Renteria; and Public Works Division Manager, Ricardo Cisneros.

Each morning, my Hillsborough County staff conducted workshops on topics such as budget and management; design and engineering; environmental laws and issues; asset management; water resources; parks & recreation; transportation maintenance; traffic engineering and operations; and solid waste management. One area we emphasized in particular was how closely our public works, planning and other public service professionals work with academia and the community to ensure that we understand community needs, and that the community understands we need its input.

Each afternoon, our guests took a tour of one of our public works facilities. Tour sites included our state-of-the-art desalinization plant, completed in December 2002; all solid waste facilities; Transportation Maintenance Operations; the Stormwater Management Specialized Services Unit; Lettuce Lake Park; Traffic Operations, and various intersection, resurfacing, and environmental projects. On Friday, we presented the participants with certificates of appreciation and met with them informally to get their feedback on the program. Sergio Amante Haddad commented that they were particularly impressed with the county staff’s close relation with citizens, especially programs in which staff visited schools in order to make students aware of issues that impact the community at large. My staff and I also felt that it was a very productive week. Having our guests visit our operation units and giving them the opportunity to ask questions onsite proved very effective in encouraging communication and learning.

As a follow-up, I met with Oscar Rivas at the AMMAC headquarters in Mexico City during the week of December 9, 2002. We discussed plans to expand the program to include other Mexican agencies such as agriculture, public security, and airports.

From any perspective, the exchange program has proven to be a true success. Certainly, the program requires a significant commitment in terms of time and effort. It provides American public works managers with an unparalleled opportunity to impact and shape the future of public works projects and operations in Mexico, because the public service and academic leaders of today will in all likelihood be Mexico’s political leaders of tomorrow.

To reach Bernardo Garcia, call (813) 307-1700 or send e-mail to

Slovak Public Works Association Spring Conference

Mark your calendar now!! April 2 and 3, 2003 are the dates for the Spring Conference of the Slovak Public Works Association. Petra Beneš, their president, has extended an invitation to all members of APWA and our suppliers to their conference in Senica, 30 miles from Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital. This is about 100 miles from the Vienna Airport, your closest international airport. The conference promises to give our suppliers an opportunity to display at their equipment show, and APWA members an opportunity to meet with our peers in the Vishigrad Four countries of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. We will be able to network and exchange ideas, gaining experience from our European friends.

If you have been considering a European holiday for some time, now is your opportunity to mix business with pleasure. Senica is a town with traditional folk art and ceramics, and is rich in history and culture, as indeed are all of the towns and cities in this part of Europe. Ancient castles and churches dot the landscape, and this part of Europe offers the best health spas and skiing in the world.

The mesmerizing High Tatras, which span the border between Slovakia and Poland, offer hundreds of hiking and skiing trails along the Carpathians’ highest peaks. One of the most compact ranges in the world, the High Tatras feature skyscraping hikes, glacial lakes, and deep snows. The High Tatras rival the Swiss and Austrian Alps at much more affordable prices and modern facilities. Check them out.

APWA has been involved with SPWA since 1998 when past-President Geoff Greenough visited Slovakia for a week, visiting a number of cities and their mayors, as well as their Spring Conference to give them an idea of how public works services are organized in America, introduce them to APWA, what we do, how it is organized, and how it functions and interacts with our governments. Later that year, five or six representatives of SPWA attended the APWA Congress in Las Vegas, and visited cities in Arizona and New England to learn firsthand how our public works services are delivered. Since then, they have sent representatives to our Congresses in Louisville, Kentucky and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

APWA has been represented by a five-member delegation (including board member and President-Elect Dwayne Kalynchuk) to SPWA’s Spring 2001 Conference and also by Kalynchuk at their Spring 2002 Conference. APWA signed a collaboration agreement with SPWA at the 2000 Congress in Louisville. The Slovak Public Works Association, with assistance from the APWA Task Force, forged a collaboration agreement with the Vishigrad Four countries of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic in 2001.

For more information, please contact Geoff Greenough, Chair of the APWA/SPWA Task Force, at, or other members of the Task Force, which include Helena K. Allison,; Guy S. Cicon,; Belo Cxomor,; Jimmy B. Foster,; Larry Nadeau,; Larry Lux,; and Kaye Sullivan, Petra Beneš, SPWA President, can be reached at

To see additional photos from the 2001 visit to the V-4 countries by the APWA/SPWA Task Force and President-Elect Dwayne Kalynchuk, go to the British Columbia Chapter’s website at and click on “Public Works Photos of Poland and Slovakia.”


Nonverbal Communication
What is your posture? What are your sitting habits? In the United States, where being casual is valued, people may informally collapse into chairs or slouch while standing. In Germany, where more formal cultures exist, a slouching posture is considered a sign of rudeness and poor manners. Squatting is seldom seen in the United States, but it is quite common in many parts of the world.

Facial expressions can also be a valuable form of communication. How do you display emotion, express intimacy, and deal with status? In some cultures, smacking your lips together is a sign of approval; yet there are many cultures, the English for example, where such an expression would be deemed in poor taste. In many Mediterranean cultures, signs of grief or sadness are exaggerated. Sometimes these emotions may be masked, as in Japan, when laughing and smiling may actually indicate anger, sorrow, or disgust. The Chinese, on the other hand, do not readily show emotion.

Even eye contact has its place in communication. Americans tend to look at our communication partner more when we are listening rather than talking. The more interesting the message, the more we will look at our partner. Likewise, Americans tend to feel discomfort when someone gazes at us for longer than 10 seconds. Contrast the American practice of eye contact with that of other cultures. It may be considered rude in some Far Eastern cultures to look into another person’s eyes during conversation. Others may stand very close to you and stare directly into your eyes. Male-female relationships can also impact eye behavior. In many Asian cultures it is considered taboo for a woman to look straight into the eyes of a man, yet staring for the French is an accepted cultural norm. (Condensed from Understanding Intercultural Communication, by Samovar, Porter and Jain)

Cultural Proverbs:

“Adversity makes a man wise, not rich.” — Romanian Proverb

“Experience is the comb that nature gives us when we are bald.” — Belgian Proverb

“To deceive a diplomat speak the truth. He has no experience with it.” — Greek Proverb