We can make a difference

Bob Freudenthal
APWA President

  Bob Freudenthal

Editor's Note: As has been the custom in the past, each new APWA President is interviewed by the APWA Reporter at the beginning of each presidential term. In this manner, presidential plans are laid out, hopes revealed, and observations noted. The following are the answers contributed by new APWA President Bob Freudenthal.

First, some background on Freudenthal, who is the Deputy General Manager, Hendersonville Utility District, Hendersonville, Tennessee. He has spent the majority of his career with the City of Hendersonville, serving in positions from Inspector to Public Works Director (a position he held for 14 years). He also served as the Public Works Director for the City of Paducah, Kentucky, for three years before accepting his current position in 2004. He has an A.S. degree in Architectural Construction Technology and a B.S. degree in Business Management.

Freudenthal has been very active in APWA at both the national and chapter levels. At the national level, he has been a member of the Congress Program Review Committee (1996-97), Membership Committee (Chair, 2000-01) and Finance Committee (2001-2004; Chair, 2004), and was Director of Region III from 1999 to 2004. His involvement with the Tennessee Chapter includes terms as Chapter President in 1996 and Chapter Delegate in 1999, along with his participation on the Awards and Executive Committees.

A member of APWA since 1984, Freudenthal acknowledges that he has been fortunate that Hendersonville has seen the benefit of professional association membership for its employees. "It is without question that my involvement in APWA has been a key factor in my professional advancement," he says.

How did you get involved in public works?

My initial involvement in public works began while working as a draftsman in an engineering firm in Nashville. It was at that time I began to realize the importance of what we do as a profession to the overall quality of life that exists in our community. Shortly after that I began my public service career with the City of Hendersonville and have continued to this day to try and make a positive difference.

What will be your priorities as APWA President?

My priorities include maintaining the positive impact of APWA by implementation of the Strategic Plan and subsequent initiatives; increasing our advocacy for public works issues; activation of the certification and master's degree programs; increasing the number of accredited agencies; continuing the development of an education program that meets the needs of an individual for their entire public works career; activation of our public works awareness efforts for youth, college students, and in our communities; and maintaining the fiscal condition of APWA. I hope to make a positive difference in our profession, in our communities, in our organization, and in at least one individual that I haven't even met yet.

Finally, I hope to inspire others to become involved public works professionals. Whatever you undertake in life, personally or professionally, it should be done in a manner that brings excellence and inspires the next person to take it even further than you can imagine.

What is the greatest benefit you see in being a member of APWA?

Without question it's the wonderful opportunity to meet some of the best people in the world. So many people I have met as a result of APWA have become role models and mentors for me in my career. It's awesome to know that you can call on people from all areas of the association to assist you in whatever challenge is facing you. Michelle and I consider many of the people we have met over the years in APWA to be some of our dearest friends.

What are some of the changes that you have seen in public works?

The biggest changes in public works, as they are with the rest of society, are the advancements in technology and the increased awareness of the citizen. Technology has made communication easier, complex issues simpler (sometimes), time move faster, and the world a smaller place. Our profession has been a major recipient of many of the technology changes and I believe this will be an even greater impact on our profession in the years to come.

Along with technology has come an increased awareness by the citizen of the impact public works has on everyday life. From transportation and environmental concerns to the location of necessary community functions, we must now consider every issue in a broader, possibly even global, context. We as public works professionals have a great opportunity to provide leadership in these decision-making processes and we must take advantage of the window of opportunity that currently exists. We can make a difference.

What are some of your major accomplishments?

My greatest accomplishment has been to be a part of a wonderful family that includes my wife, Michelle, our three children, and our extended family members. Although my level of involvement in this accomplishment has probably not been as in-depth as it should have been, I still take pride in the results.

From a professional standpoint I would have to say it has been the involvement in many projects that have improved the communities where I have worked. Whether it's been the implementation of new design standards, construction of a capital improvement, or the resolution of a long-existing concern, each project has left a sense of satisfaction that is the greatest reward from this profession. It's a really cool thing when you can drive down a street and know that you have helped individuals or communities resolve a problem or improve the neighborhood.

Who have been your mentors and who inspires you?

I probably shouldn't try to name all of the mentors or people who have inspired me as I surely will forget to recognize some very important people, but there are a few that I will mention.

From a mentoring perspective the first one is the best one. My dad, Gus Freudenthal, taught me the value of hard work and accomplishment. His strength and determination provided a great example for my family as well as a wonderful standard of living. He was the first person to teach me that everybody you lock eyes with matters to God so they better matter to you, and never, ever, think that you are better than anyone else. The true value of a person is measured in their work and their influence on others to do better.

My biggest inspirations would have to be my children who are making a difference in their chosen worlds. Whether it's ministering to young people, teaching elementary school children or defending the country they love, each one of them is an absolute inspiration for their parents.

My professional mentors and inspirations would have to include people like Ed Archer, Frank Kirk and Roger Clark from the Tennessee Chapter; Hank Thompson, Steve Raper, Elbert Jones, Bobby Moore and Paul Durham from Hendersonville; Jim Zumwalt, Gerry Montgomery, Mark Thompson, Sarah Phillips, Rick Murphy and Dave Harvell from Paducah; Judy Mueller, Jerry Fay, Bob Albee, Peter King and Kaye Sullivan from APWA; Bob Seals, Ed Sizer, Mark McCain and Noel Thompson from Region III; and Tom Atchley and Bill Boyers from the Hendersonville Utility District. However, the greatest inspiration I've received professionally has been from the many dedicated public works employees who give their best each day as they go about their craft. Every person and every position has value in public works and we need to continually remind our fellow professionals that they matter and are appreciated.

Is there any area of public works in which APWA should become more involved?

Our strategic planning effort will go a long way to identifying the new areas of focus for APWA. Additionally, the recent APWA initiatives of certification and personal advancement will provide dividends for years to come.

What other needs are facing our profession today?

Probably the biggest challenge facing our profession is the development of the next generation of workers. Succession planning and workforce development are tremendously important to our culture. APWA can be a valuable resource for addressing this need.

Another need facing public works is developing the ability to meet the demands of our time. We are continually asked to do more with fewer resources while meeting increased regulation and expected level of service.

How will you juggle your responsibilities as APWA President with your position at the Hendersonville Utility District?

It's good to be young [laughs]. I am blessed with the fact that I work with a great friend who supports my endeavors at APWA. Tom Atchley, HUD General Manager, and the Board of Commissioners have been wonderful to work with and have allowed me take this great ride with APWA. The bottom line is that each side works together for the good of the other. My APWA work helps the district by advocating for the profession, developing educational programs for employees and providing the resources needed for an improved product, while my work with HUD helps to bring actual experience to the APWA programs as well as insight into the needs of the public works industry.

Neither of the responsibilities could be possible without the fantastic work of staff members who make sure I'm in the right place, at the right time, with the right tools to do a good job. I continue to lean on them for support and encouragement. I thank them for the great job they're doing.