The key to success at any level: Kurt A. Corey

  Kurt A. Corey

Editor's Note: This month's Member Profile features Kurt A. Corey, Director of Public Works, City of Eugene, Oregon; Member, APWA Engineering and Technology Committee; Treasurer, APWA Oregon Chapter; and former member of the APWA/ACEC Steering Committee.

How did you get involved in public works? Looking back, I'm not sure that a lot of people ever started out to end up in public works, we just kind of end up here. Thinking back as to the path I've been down, I know that as I was finishing high school I determined that I was going to go off to college and obtain some kind of undergraduate degree and then go on to law school. Along the line, purely out of financial necessities, I ended up going to work to pay my way through college and

found a job with an engineering consultant in Helena, Montana, and then subsequently as an intern for the City of Corvallis, Oregon. Getting the opportunity to see what municipal engineering and public works activities were all about, I just kind of found a niche there because of the diverse nature of the work, and it's kept my interest for twenty-five years now.

Education: I received a degree in mathematics from Carroll College in Helena, Montana, and a degree in civil engineering from Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Favorite Book: Thinking about that question, it occurs to me that my lifestyle just doesn't create blocks of time to read a lot of books, certainly not one that sticks out as a favorite. So what I end up with is a number of books on the nightstand that have a bookmark at some point and they're ongoing at the same time. The ones that are in that category right now are The Purpose Driven Life and a Stephen Hawking book that's called The Universe in a Nutshell. I'm also reading Profiles in Courage and another book called The Rise of the Creative Class.

Hobbies/Interests: My primary interests outside of work are football and basketball officiating, which I've done at the high school and small college levels for twenty-three years. Beyond that I'd say that I go golfing, and those who go with me will verify that it's not the same as playing golf. That's the other thing that we do to break the routine of work. In addition to that, I still try to be a dad for our two daughters, even though they're now grown up and out of the house. And, of course, I'm still interested in my wife, Jacque, after twenty-eight years.

Role Model: There are a few that come to mind. First of all I'd start with my parents. They were farmers, ranchers and small business owners, and I know that from them I learned some things about work ethic. I also had the opportunity as an adolescent to have a real insightful pastor that I credit with any spiritual grounding that I have. I also have some longtime family friends, Bill and Bonnie Metzger. Bill was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for nearly six years, and Bonnie waited and worked hard for his release during that time. Their experience and friendship have taught me a lot about courage and priority setting and devotion to a cause, and in combination those are the people that I look on as having developed my overall philosophy of, what the staff here will tell you, doing the right thing.

Career Accomplishments: Things that come to mind along those lines always begin with the upfront acknowledgement that I've had the opportunity to spend my career around a lot of good people who have gotten a lot of good things done. And so, my accomplishment has been trying to create the atmosphere so that all those people can do those good things.

During the years in Billings, I look back at what I'd characterize as a bunch of high-performing overachievers working on bare minimum resources who really got a lot of good things done in the community. Some of those would have included the neighborhood street and sidewalk programs that really paid dividends in revitalizing the community. We had a solid waste and landfill operation that we set a target of having a fifty-year landfill life, even in the face of federal regulations that came into play during those years. When we started we projected a fifty-year life, and fifteen years later we were still projecting a fifty-year life based on the conservation practices and management practices that the staff was able to implement there.

Here in Eugene, over the last three and a half years or so, I think what you end up doing is looking back and seeing how you did in retrospect. Some things that come to mind here include the airport, which is one of the public works functions here in Eugene. Our airport dealt with the effects of 9/11 just like other airports across the country. In spite of that we've remained solvent, we've actually attracted new air service, we've been able to retain in large part the commercial service that we had before 9/11, the staff has worked hard with the FAA on funding issues, and we recently awarded a sixteen million dollar runway project.

Our wastewater treatment operation is something we're very proud of. In the fall of 2001, staff there completed the development and implementation of an Environmental Management System which was registered as compliant with ISO 14001 standards. The wastewater treatment plant here was the first ISO-registered EMS for a public agency in the Pacific Northwest, and one of only six registered EMS's for public wastewater agencies in the country. More recently the treatment plant has been accepted into EPA's National Environmental Performance Track program, which is another recognition of the good things that they're doing out there.

The staff over the past several years has been busy implementing a twenty-five million dollar parks and open space bond issue that the community approved in 1998. We recently completed a challenging and environmentally-sensitive bike path project in Eugene that was featured in the June Reporter as an article. We have actually begun to address a significant backlog of deferred street maintenance that has grown to nearly one hundred million dollars. I also need to acknowledge the accomplishments of our Fleet and Radio Communications staff who have implemented a number of significant improvements including a vastly improved preventive maintenance and replacement program, as well as other environmentally-friendly practices such as the introduction of hybrid vehicles, the use of biodiesel, and other creative changes. And beyond that I can point to several instances where our operations staff has responded to emergencies, not the least of which was a February of 2002 windstorm that knocked down hundreds of large trees, several flooding events, and most recently an ice and snow emergency which was very unusual for Eugene that occurred on New Year's Day, when the staff mobilized on short notice and actually had our Emergency Command Center up and running for over a week dealing with that.

Awards Received: Well, during my years in Montana I was recognized as the Outstanding Young Engineer by the Midland Empire Chapter of ASCE. I was also recognized as the Outstanding Chapter Member of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of APWA. In addition to the work that I mentioned with our wastewater treatment plant, Eugene Public Works also received a national award from APWA in the Journalism category for the work that Eric Jones of our staff spearheaded on a public outreach process entitled "Take a Closer Look," which was part of our effort to help inform our community about our street deferred maintenance backlog and alternatives for dealing with it. That effort also resulted in a prestigious Telly Award for excellence in television media. And our Parks and Open Space Division has started an impressive collection of regional and national awards, most recently the 2004 Bronze Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America recognizing and honoring our Eugene Outdoors! newsletter.

What are some of the projects and activities of APWA's Engineering and Technology Committee? Of course like other Technical Committees, we do have in the work plan each year the preparation and submittal of several technical sessions for the annual APWA Congress focusing on engineering and technology issues. We also have a work plan item around information exchange under which we have various activities including preparation and submittal of Reporter articles. We have provided an APWA member liaison to the National Institute of Building Sciences, and are trying to work with them on the development of a national CADD standard. We're looking for ways to build on our outreach to the academic community and the Canadian Public Works Association.

Carol Estes [Technical Services Program Manager] and the rest of the staff in Kansas City are pretty good about prodding us to submit ideas and topics for the Click, Listen & Learn series, which really is the latest, greatest, and best technology for providing that kind of technical information to the membership. And of course, we've maintained our relationship with ACEC on QBS and value-based delivery systems issues.

In the area of public policy we've been involved primarily in the drafting and reviewing of some of the policy and position statements that the Board considers. Over the past couple of years we've drafted and sent forth a position statement on ADA requirements for the public right-of-way. We've done some work on the metrication position statement, and reviewed the other statements that are pertinent to the work of the Engineering and Technology Committee.

You participated for some years on the APWA/ACEC Steering Committee. What were some of your responsibilities on that committee? Our initial work effort there was working with ACEC to help sponsor and facilitate a satellite training teleconference to help launch the second edition of what we refer to as the red book, Selection and Use of Engineers, Architects and Professional Consultants: Guidelines for Public Agencies. That teleconference went off, and ACEC still uses a video of it as part of their training. In subsequent years we've maintained the relationship with ACEC and continue to share information at one another's conferences, primarily in the areas of qualification-based selection of consultants and the ongoing emerging issue of value-based delivery systems.

You are currently the treasurer for the Oregon Chapter. What are some of your responsibilities in that position, and how challenging is it? The treasurer duties include preparing and proposing the annual budget. We then on a monthly basis monitor and report back to the Board on the financial situation of the chapter. We make sure that the money on hand is working for us. And then, of course, we submit the required periodic reports to APWA National.

As to the challenge of the position, I can tell you that our Board of Directors recognizes that the real chapter treasurer is my administrative assistant, Karen Loy, and absent her I would see the job as particularly challenging. But with her keeping track of things, it really goes pretty smoothly.

Tell us more about the City of Eugene's Public Works Department: The Eugene Public Works Department consists of six operating divisions and more than four hundred employees. We have responsibility for planning, building, maintaining and operating most of the city's infrastructure, including streets, bridges, sidewalks, bike paths, traffic control, street lighting, stormwater, parks, urban forests, wastewater collection and treatment, fleet and radio communications management, and the airport. We really have a tremendously talented and dedicated group of people engaged in those activities. Right now, in addition to their normal work, they're engaged in the APWA accreditation process. Within the next couple of months we expect to report that we've become the first accredited APWA agency in Oregon.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? This is a pretty easy answer for me. First of all, I really believe that APWA delivers on its Mission Statement. APWA is acknowledged as a public policy advocate for the public infrastructure, something that we find time after time in working with our legislative delegation on public policy issues. It clearly is a gateway resource for education and knowledge exchange, and from a management perspective is without question the best educational value that we can get for our education dollars. APWA increasingly becomes the brand name for credible information. The organization has done a good job getting out in front of things and helping the rest of the world recognize that there is a lot of synergy within the organization that brings a lot of credibility with it.

On the personal side, APWA membership over nearly twenty years has provided an opportunity to spend some quality time and share experiences with some really great people from all over the country, and many other foreign countries at this point. Membership really helps to build and sustain relationships, which in my estimation is the key to success at any level.