People notice the wrong things

Dwayne Kalynchuk, P.Eng.
Senior Consultant
Stantec Inc.
Edmonton, Alberta
APWA President

"We have a tendency to forget the benefits accruing from the thousands of public works systems across the nation. But the very fact that these services are taken for granted is testimony to their efficiency—and to the capability of those who build, maintain, and operate them." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

We widen six blocks of an arterial to eliminate a severe bottleneck—and when the phone rings a voice demands to know why we haven't patched a pothole. We redesign our refuse collection routes to collect more wastes with the same number of people and vehicles—and the voice on the phone asks us to pick up a dead animal on the street "right away." We complete a multi-million-dollar addition to our water treatment plant to improve water quality—and the caller wants to know why we have to shut off the water for an hour to cut in a new valve.

Sometimes it seems that people notice only the wrong things.

Maybe it's because they take us for granted, and they do. They expect our public works to work, and they do, but of course not perfectly 100% of the time.

One of our problems is that we spend almost all of our efforts striving for reliability and perfection, but we neglect to tell people how our contributions to public works are enriching their lives.

That is why APWA conceived the idea of National Public Works Week in 1960. It has accomplished a lot over the years, but a continuing effort is required. Agencies hold open houses and set up exhibits at shopping malls and community centers. Mayors, governors and premiers sign official proclamations. All of which directs favorable attention to the field of public works and the officials responsible for these vital services.

Such attention translates into the cooperation and support we continually need to build, operate, and maintain such services. Construction projects require financial support. Every refuse collector needs the cooperation of residents every working day on every route. An informed public is more likely to respond favorably, no matter what the request, than a public that understands neither the problems nor the solutions.

National Public Works Week is not a frivolous attempt at self-gratification. It serves several real and necessary purposes.

Another of these is to attract talented students and newcomers to this challenging field. Our public works activities are becoming more complex. We need fresh technology and new management skills. If the talented students, managers, and technicians receive some favorable exposure to our field, we'll be able to attract our fair share of them to continue the quest for excellence.

Nominating and selecting the Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year are important elements of National Public Works Week. No matter who is selected for this honor this year, spreading the news of their accomplishments will again raise the stature of the entire profession.

National Public Works Week takes place May 16-22, and the theme is "24:7: Focused on Our Community." Get involved. This is our once-a-year chance to bring public works into the open and try to get publicity for what we do. Just as significant, it is an opportunity to step back and say "thank you" to your employees. It is important to make them feel good about what we do in public works.

President Kalynchuk can be reached at (780) 917-7228 or at dkalynchuk@stantec.com.

Objectives of National Public Works Week

  • To increase citizens' understanding of public works-the problems encountered, the labor required, and the importance of this governmental service to the current well-being and future progress of our communities, states, provinces and nations.

  • To inspire excellence and dedication in public service by recognizing outstanding contributions of individual public works officials.

  • To encourage talented young people to prepare for careers in public works, and to acquaint them with the challenges and opportunities in the field.

Editor's Note: If you have any questions regarding the promotion of National Public Works Week, please contact Jon Dilley, Manager of Marketing and Graphic Design, at (800) 848-APWA or at jdilley@apwa.net.