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It's all public works: John W. Griffin, Jr.
Editor's Note: The July issue's Member Profile features John W. Griffin, Jr., Director, Buried Asset Management Institute, Department of Watershed Management, City of Atlanta, Georgia; former member of APWA's Government Affairs Committee and Accreditation Council; Georgia Chapter Past President; and Co-Chair of the Host Committee for the upcoming APWA Congress and Exposition in Atlanta.
Tell us about your background: After graduating from college I spent four years working as a civil engineer with Parsons-Brinkerhoff-Tudor-Bechtel, the general engineering consultant for Atlanta's rapid transit authority, MARTA. I began my career with the City of Atlanta in 1978 starting as a Civil Engineer III, and have been with the city ever since. Over the years I've served as Director of the Bureau of Highways and Streets, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, and Interim Commissioner of Public Works. Last year I became Director of the new Buried Asset Management Institute, or BAMI, within the city's Department of Watershed Management.
I've been married for the last thirty years to my lovely wife, Beverly, and we have two children. Our daughter, Tanesha, is an epidemiologist, and works for the Centers of Disease Control here in Atlanta. Our son, Tres (John III), is a tenth-grader here in high school.
Education: I have a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from South Carolina State University.
Favorite Book: In recent years I have spent so much time reading correspondence, technical reports and other related documents, I have not done a lot of leisure reading and don't have a favorite book at this time. I do take the time to read the newspaper and an occasional magazine.
Hobbies/Interests: I serve as a scoutmaster for the Boy Scout troop at my church. That's the biggest after-hours activity that I have going right now.
Role Model: My role model is my father, definitely. My dad's background and the way he exposed me to the building trades as a youngster have helped me throughout my career. My father was an educator in the construction field. He taught mechanical drawing and building construction and he also operated a small construction business. Just being around him and the construction industry growing up as a kid had a tremendous influence on me and my career, because it introduced me to fundamental construction concepts and practices at a very early age. So there are a lot of things that I do when performing design or project management tasks that are somewhat second nature just by having that experience as a youngster.
Career Accomplishments: Early on in my career with the City of Atlanta I was assigned the task of mapping Atlanta's sewers using GIS [Geographic Information System] technology. Although the term "GIS" didn't exist in the early '80s, it was computerized mapping. GIS evolved as a term somewhere between 1980 and 1985, and has grown ever since into a large worldwide industry. Having the opportunity to establish a system here in the City of Atlanta that will be used from now on as a way of managing our infrastructure, is something that I consider a major accomplishment in my career.
I was also able to incorporate into our day-to-day operations modern techniques of surveying and computerization for our engineering processes here in the City of Atlanta. Just prior to that, when I came on board back in 1978, we were preparing all of our computations and drawings by hand. So another set of significant contributions I've made to this organization is establishing electronic surveying and computerized engineering computation capability in the department.
As the Deputy Director of Highways and Streets, I was responsible for maintaining all of the city's bridges, roadways and sewers. So another of my contributions to this organization would be starting the work of improving the sewer systems back in the early '90s. In 1992 we started a program to get the designs completed for those improvements, even though we didn't have the funding to construct them. Our approach back then was to at least start the design process and figure out what we needed to put in the ground to address system deficiencies, so that once we could identify funding we could move forward with constructing those improvements expeditiously. Unfortunately, Atlanta was forced to enter into two Consent Decrees with the United States Environmental Protection Agency before we could complete a significant amount of this work. The completion of the projects became mandates under the Consent Decrees. To date, nine of the projects have been completed and one remains under construction. The value of this program is approximately $600 million. We are working on improvements to the sewer piping system that is valued at $1 billion, and we have to put them into place over the next ten years.
Tell us more about the Department of Watershed Management: When Mayor Shirley Franklin came on board in 2002, she decided that she wanted to establish a department that dealt with our water and wastewater systems exclusively. So she created the Department of Watershed Management which deals with everything that is associated with water in Atlanta—stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water. She also hired Jack Ravan, a former U.S. EPA regional administrator, to head the new department.
Mayor Franklin's and Commissioner Ravan's goal is to develop water programs in Atlanta that will be "Best-in-Class" in a few years. They also have established a vision that includes identifying, certifying and deploying materials, processes and management procedures that allow the best possible service to be delivered to Atlantans at the best possible cost. They have also established an objective of deploying management and technical materials and procedures that sustains Atlanta's systems in a manner that ensures that the city doesn't have to enter into future Consent Decrees.
Commissioner Ravan has established an office to focus on the initiatives I just described and he has selected me to carry out this mission in the Department of Watershed Management as Director of Underground Asset Management. I am also responsible for directing the activities of an organization that focuses on the management of our buried assets on a global level. The organization has been named the Buried Asset Management Institute, or BAMI. BAMI focuses on improving Atlanta's drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure so that it provides sustained best-in-class service to our ratepayers for the best possible cost. We've also established a think tank under BAMI where we look at developing trends and technologies that will help Atlanta and the entire water industry provide improved service to its ratepayers.
The Public Works Department still exists, of course, but it now is focused on managing Atlanta's streets, bridges, solid waste collection and disposal, and fleet. But as I tell people, it's all public works.
What has life been like as the co-chair of the 2004 Congress Host Committee? Well, it's been fun. We basically have done a little bit of planning each year. Obviously, we're now in this last six-month period before Congress actually arrives, so our efforts are a lot more intense than they were six months ago. But we are pulling together our volunteers and the details of our day-to-day program activities, and we've identified the roles our management staff here in the Georgia Chapter will be responsible for. And we're executing our plan on schedule.
Also, it's been an opportunity to do something again that this group has done in the past. We have some veterans who still remember when the conference came here in 1981. Fortunately my co-chair, Claudette Campbell [Executive Director, Utilities Protection Center, Duluth, GA], is one of those veterans. So we've pulled together that expertise, and we are planning to give our guests one of the best shows that they've attended in recent years. It's been a joy to do this work, and we all look forward to Congress coming here in September.
Why do you like being a member of APWA? The main reason that I like being a member of APWA is that the organization has its finger on the pulse of everything that affects the public works industry. The educational opportunities that are provided by APWA and the day-to-day industry information that you receive as a member are extremely valuable. APWA helps us as managers, directors, and supervisors of public works stay attuned to what's changing out there and what's coming our way. And therefore it's almost like a barometer that we use that helps us gauge how various actions will affect our industry and how we need to prepare for those changes when they arrive.
For instance, when we look back over the last twenty-five years, some of the major changes that we've seen have come through the Clean Water Act requirements. APWA has always been on the forefront of letting its members know what's coming forward. I remember this vividly back in the '80s—APWA put on sessions around the country that made public works managers aware of those pending requirements and the deadlines associated with the new stormwater regulations. And as a result, we were able to plan for those requirements when they got here and were able to meet the permit requirements that were being established. So it's that kind of activity, along with the information that comes out in the Reporter each month, that is very valuable to us as public works managers.
And secondly, the ability to create a network of public works people across the country that you can converse with on various problems and solve various issues that we all run into from time to time as managers and supervisors. So I think that the overall network that's generated by the association is another valuable asset to us as management personnel.
Last but certainly not least, APWA helps Congress make certain decisions in a more informed manner by staying in direct contact with Capitol Hill through its Washington Office. I believe reinvestment in this nation's infrastructure is one of the most important issues facing the American people today, especially funding for water and wastewater system improvements. APWA has and will continue to play an important role in keeping this issue on the table for discussion until change occurs.