The ones that make the difference: John M. Heinz

Editor's Note: This issue's Member Profile features John M. Heinz, Director of Public Works, Village of Barrington, Illinois; Past President, Chicago Metro Chapter (1994); Chair and member, APWA Congress Site Selection Committee (1996-1999; 2005-06); member, APWA Awards Committee (2002-03); and 2004 Top Ten Public Works Leader of the Year.

Tell us about your background: I was raised in Skokie, Illinois. I have five brothers and sisters, and I'm the last of the six. I was fortunate enough to be selected for a Chick Evans Scholarship. It was a four-year scholarship, and I was able to attend the University of Illinois which I take great pride in. I graduated with a degree in civil engineering, with emphasis in environmental engineering.

After graduation I began working as the Assistant Director of Public Works in Geneva, Illinois, a relatively small community west of Chicago. I was very fortunate to have stumbled upon that job in many respects, because I wasn't necessarily looking for a job directly in public works. It was available and I was able to seize the opportunity. I worked there for two years, and then I became the Village Engineer, Director of Public Works, Building and Zoning Commissioner, and Health Officer for the Village of Lindenhurst in Illinois. I left Lindenhurst in 1989 to become the Director of Public Works for the Village of Barrington.

Going back to the Chick Evans's been awhile since I've heard about that scholarship, but it's golf related, isn't it? We receive it for being caddies. So it's golf-related in that way, but it's not because we're good golfers. It's because we're good caddies, we have financial need, we have good grades, and we are of good character. Some might debate that, though [laughs]. It's the largest privately-funded scholarship in the United States with over 800 Evans Scholars enrolled at 14 major universities each year.

Favorite Book: I don't have much time for books, but I read the newspaper on a daily basis, virtually cover to cover. I'm very interested in current events, certainly those that are happening in the community that I work for as well as the community that I live in. I read numerous magazines, anything from some technical things that are of interest to me having to do with my job, all the way to leisure activities, whether it's golf or fishing or any types of sports.

Hobbies/Interests: Well, I'm interested in all sports. I still play basketball competitively in a league, which is becoming a little more difficult these days [laughs]. But we still have fun—we play in a thirty-and-over league and we're all over forty. I thoroughly enjoy golfing and fishing, but in the last couple of years what I've enjoyed more than anything is coaching our son, Mike, who's currently nine years old, in baseball, basketball and soccer. I love competing in sports, but there is nothing like watching your kid compete.

Right. Our eleven-year-old son is involved in taekwondo, and it's a lot of fun to watch him do that. There's nothing like the rush of being in a game, but I never knew what it would be like to watch your son score a goal, or get a clutch hit, or make a clutch play, or hit a clutch basket, or something like that. You're like, "Wow!" Tears come to your eyes.

Role Model: Well, I would say from a career standpoint there's a clear-cut role model and that's Tom Talsma, who just left Geneva after working for twenty-eight years there. He's not only a role model, he's been my mentor. He set a great foundation for me in this profession, and taught me about work ethic in many respects but also about work ethic in our profession, which is somewhat unique being a public official. He's one of my very best friends and he gives me fabulous advice all the time, and has been doing that for twenty-two years now.

Overall, both my mother and father were great role models for me. They raised six kids, all of which have gotten college degrees, and did it on their own. Mom and Dad didn't have enough money to send us to school. But they worked their rear ends off to provide for us and give us the opportunity. And looking back, it was an unbelievable feat for them to do that, and I know that they're proud of all of us. We all take great pride in it too, and stand tall as the legacy of Wilbur and Jean Heinz.

The fact that the six of you put yourselves through college is pretty remarkable. You know, I don't think it could happen today because college costs are just massive. But my dad looked at it as being kind of an incentive. The way he thought, if he was paying for it, in some respects we may not work as hard. But if we were paying for it maybe we would buy into it a little bit more, no pun intended. And I think in some respects that's very true.

My dad was a salesman and he lived paycheck to paycheck. And when they both passed away, we came to realize they didn't have a retirement plan. They had their house and whatever their possessions were, and that was about it. We came to realize then just how tight a budget they were on and the reason why he said, "You want to go to college, you have to do it yourself." But two of us got scholarships. My brothers and sisters got grades good enough that they were able to get some financial aid, and again, fortunately we went to school at a time when that was achievable. Nowadays I just don't think you can do that.

Career Accomplishments: Well, there have been a lot of improvements here in Barrington. I get a hard time from some of my counterparts because they work at large communities where the scale is just much larger [laughs]. But we've done some outstanding and award-winning streetscape work here that I think is going to last forever. The projects have gotten a great response from the public and our business community. We've brought our infrastructure completely up-to-speed by developing a Multi-Year Infrastructure Program which we use as a guide for capital improvements.

We have also been at the forefront of utilizing "Bio-Engineering" techniques for stream bank stabilization and environmental purposes. We began this effort in 1991 performing "demonstration projects." The eight projects we have completed have made a significant difference in the local watershed and water quality in general. We constructed an "Urban Wetland" that won numerous awards and gained national attention.

The accomplishment that I'm most proud of has been the success that the supervisory people I've worked with in public works, especially in Barrington, have achieved. They have excelled and exceeded not only my, but their expectations, as far as the things that they have accomplished. They all are extremely bright and gifted, and never realized their potential until they kind of unlocked it, and they just do a great job. That's present and past supervisors included. There have been about eight or nine that were supervisors here who are now either directors or assistant directors of public works or engineering in various municipalities, and that's a testimony to them as far as what they are capable of.

Tell us more about the Village of Barrington and your Public Works Department: The Village has approximately ten thousand people, so it's pretty small by many standards. But we have a wide variety of challenges here, because we're not just residential—we are the hub of the Barrington Area which is a population in excess of fifty thousand people. We have virtually all the schools here in town, and we have all the commercial and industrial activity in town, so we have to keep many different people happy. Barrington is a relatively affluent community in the Chicagoland area, and therefore we are, I daresay, required to and expected to provide a high-level service. Fortunately we are able to do that. It pleases our residents, it pleases our businesses, and people who just come through town.

The Department is relatively small. We've got about thirty-three full-time people here, and we cover all aspects of public works. Engineering is included in the Department, so we cover that as well as all facets of public works operations. We have our own wastewater treatment plant and our own water system that we own and operate. The only thing that we don't do in-house is refuse, recycling and yard waste, and we do that on a contractual basis. Public Works oversees that contract as well. We also have a commuter line that runs through town, so we need to maintain those facilities as well. So it's a challenge to cover every area that we deal with.

You've been involved with APWA's Congress Site Selection Committee for a number of years. What has that experience been like for you? I'm sure you know Dana [Priddy, APWA's Director of Meetings]. I got to know Dana because in 1994 when the Congress was held here in Chicago, I was privileged enough to be the president of our chapter at that time, Dana had just started with APWA, and that was at a time when APWA was at some major crossroads financially and otherwise. And we in Chicago were not particularly happy with the situation where headquarters moved from our fine area. But we felt strongly enough that the association was important to all of us that we really wanted to make a mark and make a difference as it related to the Congress that was to be held here.

So the host committee worked very hard to make it very memorable, and if you talk to just about anybody who was there, they still talk about the '94 Congress and what an unbelievable time it was. We like to believe that that Congress pulled APWA, in some respects, out of some of the financial challenges that they were having at the time. And from that experience, I was asked to chair and serve on the Site Selection Committee for a couple of years. It has really been an enjoyable experience. You get to meet some great people from all the other different chapters in a more intimate way than bumping into them at Congress because you're spending two or three days with them. So you get to know about them and different cities, and the different aspects of what it takes to put on a Congress. The downside is that you have two or three sites that you're looking at and you can only select one, and therefore you've got some disappointed folks on the other end who have really worked hard to put their best foot forward and do a great job.

A lot of people say being on the committee is a cushy assignment, but you're on the run. Once you get to your site, Dana and the rest of the group have you moving just about every moment of the day, going here, going there, looking at this, evaluating that, meeting with various people, etc., and it's a busy time for the two or three days.
You were named one of the Top Ten in 2004. How did you feel when you were told you were one of the recipients? It was beyond excitement. When Dwayne Kalynchuk [APWA President, 2003-04] called me, I literally had goose bumps and a big lump in my throat. It's an incredible honor to say the least, to have your peers recognize you in that way. I've said it on many occasions—in my opinion the award is more of a reflection on the people that I have had the honor to work with than a reflection on anything that I've done individually, because you can't work in this business without having a great team. I've been very fortunate to have worked with incredible people, and that goes from top to bottom—people that I've worked for, and then people who have technically worked for me, but truly with me. They're the ones that make the difference.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? I've come to think of it as being kind of like a family. And the Congress is a family reunion every year. The networking with your fellow chapter members as well as the people you meet at Congress is very enjoyable. And it's more than just professional networking—you become good friends with these people, share personal triumphs and tragedies with them, and you get a lot of support there. It's helpful to talk about specific problems you may be having professionally or operationally in your department or even to just blow off some steam. These folks are really understanding and empathetic because they've been through a lot of what you've been through.

The other thing about APWA that I think is phenomenal are the resources. The resources these days are just unbelievable. There are the educational opportunities and there's also infoNOW—that's just an unbelievable tool. I get the messages all the time. I don't read every single one, but the ones that pique my interest I take a look at. They say you learn something new every day, and if you check into infoNOW you learn something new about every ten minutes.

Our chapter has commenced with the new Illinois Public Services Institute, and we're in our fourth year now. I've been fortunate to be the Chair for the past two years of the Leadership and Supervisory Institute which, again, wouldn't exist if APWA wasn't there. It's really growing in its popularity and it's providing a great opportunity for supervisors and people who want to be supervisors. We're hoping it will really take off in the next several years and become a huge success.