A welcoming environment: Richard Person
Editor's Note: This issue's Member Profile features Richard Person, Program Administrator, City of St. Paul, Minnesota, Public Works Department; member, APWA Solid Waste Management Committee; Minnesota Chapter Past President (1997); and Congress Planning Committee Chair (1997).
How did you get involved in public works? I came to public works from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency where I was in the solid waste division. There was a position open in the St. Paul Public Works Department to oversee an EPA grant to plan for a resource recovery facility here. So I took that job in 1980 which got me started in the solid waste and recycling field, and I've been with the Public Works Department for twenty-five years.
Education: I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1968 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. I immediately went into the U.S. Army, which was during the height of the Vietnam War as you'll recall. I enlisted so that I wouldn't have to go to Vietnam, and it worked out that way. I was a linguist in the U.S. Army for almost four years, and after that I went to Iowa State University and got a Master of Science degree in urban planning. Later, after I became a City of St. Paul employee, I got a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Minnesota.
Favorite Book: I don't read novels much. I think the last novel I read was The Da Vinci Code. I read a lot of newspapers and periodicals because I have a strong interest in world affairs and politics, so I keep up on that with my reading. But I don't read very many books.
Hobbies/Interests: My wife, Barb, and I travel a lot, so travel is certainly one of those. I play golf, volleyball and tennis. We do a lot of walking and bike riding. I'm fairly active physically. I also listen to a lot of music. I'm involved in quite a few volunteer activities, particularly Habitat for Humanity through our church. I've also been a local arts counsel for many years, and through that I've taught water color painting. I'm somewhat of a water color artist.
Role Model: Well, certainly when I started with the department, the director, Don Nygaard, and my immediate supervisor, Joanne England. Also my subsequent director, Tom Eggum, who was an APWA Top Ten recipient. They were certainly very supportive in my early career and they were very professional in their approach to managing public works. They were also very people-oriented and cared for the employees in public works, still very much evident throughout the department today. So I've tried to emulate what I learned from them earlier in my career. It's tough to name people because I've worked with so many great people over the years, but I would choose those three.
Career Accomplishments: I've had the opportunity to be involved in many areas of public works besides solid waste and recycling. First of all, I've had the good fortune over my entire career of working for every level of government. I worked for the federal government through the extension service at Iowa State—I was actually a federal employee as well a university employee. I've worked for a county, a regional agency, the State of Minnesota, and now for twenty-five years I've worked for a city. And I've found that the most stimulating and rewarding part of working in government is working for a city, because that's where the action is. That's where we're providing services directly to the citizens.
In terms of specific areas, the City of St. Paul is, as far as we know, the largest city in North America that has a nonprofit entity operating its recycling programs under contract with the City. That entity is called Eureka Recycling. And we're also the largest city in North America, we believe, that offers city-sponsored recycling service to one hundred percent of our multi-family or apartment units, of which there are over thirty thousand in the City of St. Paul. So those are two distinctive things about the City's recycling programs which I have been overseeing since I started in 1980. So I'm proud of my association with Eureka Recycling, which was previously called the Neighborhood Energy Consortium. Over the past twenty years they have won numerous awards for the recycling program that they operate in the City. That's been my primary activity.
I've also been involved in something called the Environmental Economic Partnership Project, which oversees the City's activities involving energy conservation. That project has been recognized by the EPA and other entities and has received a couple of awards.
Beyond that, I also manage the permit area for right-of-way control in Public Works, which involves anything that goes on in the public right-of-way by the private sector. We issue permits and oversee those activities. I've been the department's representative on the city-wide Emergency Management Committee. That's been a very interesting area, particularly in the last several years after 9/11.
I've been involved in Geographic Information Systems and publication in the department since the late eighties, and early work on infrastructure management systems in the department. There really have been a lot of different experiences in the department which have been of great benefit to me over my career.
Tell us more about St. Paul's Public Works Department: St. Paul is a city of about two hundred eighty-five thousand residents. The Public Works Department has about three hundred fifty employees. We provide street maintenance for the entire street network. We have a sewer utility that's part of the department, which was done under a state law that was passed in the nineties. The Public Works Department of St. Paul does not treat the water or distribute water—there's a separate water utility in St. Paul that is not part of the Public Works Department. However, as I mentioned we do operate the recycling program that I'm in charge of. So it is a full-service public works department, except for a water distribution function which is a separate agency. Of course, we work very closely with the water utility.
What are some of your initiatives on APWA's Solid Waste Management Committee? Well, I'm just a brand new member. I attended the first meeting here at the Minneapolis Congress. We just had our first conference call yesterday, so I really haven't been too involved yet. But because of my experience in emergency management, I have stepped in and volunteered to be the committee's liaison with the Emergency Management Committee of APWA. We'll be working with a couple of members of the Solid Waste Management Committee to develop our input, particularly on debris management, for the Emergency Management Committee. That's the primary thing that I'm doing on the committee now as a new member. I was previously on the Solid Waste Committee in the nineties, though, when it was called the Waste Management Committee.
Tell us about some of your other APWA activities: Back in 1991 I was selected as an Eisenhower-Jennings Randolph Fellow. I was also on the APWA Research Foundation at that time as a trustee. I chaired the 1997 Congress Host Committee when Congress was held in Minneapolis, and was the Finance Chair for the 2005 Congress Host Committee. I've also been heavily involved in the Minnesota Chapter. I was on the Executive Board and was the Chapter President in 1997, and have served on several chapter committees. The [North American] Snow Conference is going to be in St. Paul in 2007, and I'm co-chairing the local chapter committee for that event.
Why do you like being a member of APWA? I've been involved in several professional organizations other than APWA at the national and chapter levels, primarily SWANA, the Solid Waste Association of North America. I've also been involved in the recycling field's professional organization. But I've found that APWA really has the most opportunities, especially if you want to get involved like I was encouraged to do by the people that I mentioned earlier. I found that it was easy to get involved in APWA and there was a very welcoming environment to do that. So I concentrated my involvement in APWA rather than the other organizations which I could have gotten more involved in.