Congress Reflections

Jerry M. Fay, P.E.
Vice President and National Program Director for Public Works
HDR
Phoenix, Arizona
APWA Past President (1999-2000)

As I look toward the future and see retirement looming on the horizon, I have become reflective regarding my career and involvement in APWA. And as I think about Congress and what it has meant to me, it becomes apparent that its meaning has changed over time just as my career and interests have changed. I have determined, at least in my years of attending Congress, that there were four phases. I will describe them in detail below and will call them the initiation phase, serious learning phase, active involvement phase and social networking and enjoyment phase.

I can remember very vividly my first Congress in Kansas City in 1980. I had been a member of APWA since 1975 and had participated in the semi-annual chapter conferences, but my employer at that time did not send employees to national meetings. When I changed jobs and moved to a larger public agency, I was afforded the opportunity to attend my first Congress. I must admit that I was as equally interested in the opportunity to travel out of state as I was in attending the Congress. However, when I arrived at my first Congress, I was awestruck. I had not been prepared for the magnitude of the event and the multitude of opportunities placed before me. What impressed me most about Congress was the professionalism of the entire event. Many times conventions are associated with frivolous activities and social functions. However, APWA offered the finest educational programs and speakers and an equipment show that exceeded my expectations and needs at that time. The first several Congresses I attended were truly enriching experiences that not only helped me grow professionally, but showed me the future and what I could hope to attain in my career. I was truly blessed to be able to rub elbows with some of the legends of public works, many who are now memorialized in the oral histories.

As I became a more seasoned Congress attendee, I started to grow aware of how to effectively expand my Congress experience. I realized that Congress had much more to offer than what was described in the official program. There was the experience of being in different cities; the opportunity to interact not only with other Congress participants, but with the outstanding APWA staff; and the chance to begin to enjoy the casual camaraderie that enables us to share experiences away from our work setting that we normally would not. I began to recognize that those that had gone before me and those that were on the journey with me had to deal with the same issues and challenges. I had the resources of virtually every member of APWA available to me, and I was able to take advantage of it at Congress.

As I became active in APWA at the national level, Congress again took on a new dimension. I was a member of national committees, served on the Board, was now a participant in helping develop the Congress—and, like the Wizard of Oz, I got to stand behind the curtain. However, unlike the Wizard, I found behind the curtain the most incredible group of people I have ever encountered, the dedicated APWA staff. To the casual attendee, Congress is a smooth, flawless event. But when you look behind the curtain you see what an awesome undertaking it is. I believe one of the main reasons that Congress has been so successful over the years is that the APWA staff is never satisfied. No matter how good Congress is, they feel it can be better. A good example of this is the now-popular General Sessions featuring keynote speakers. They recognize that there is more to public works than public works. They remind us that as professionals we need to be aware of other issues that are related to public works and also be willing to lighten up a little and not take ourselves so seriously. Congress is a dynamic event that has been able to continue to meet the ever-changing needs of the public works professional.

Enjoying themselves at the 2004 Congress Banquet in Atlanta are Cheryl and Jerry Fay and Jacque and Kurt Corey (Director of Public Works, City of Eugene, Oregon).

I have to admit that I am now in the stage of my career where I go to Congress primarily for the full enjoyment of the experience. The Get Acquainted Party is a time to renew friendships that have grown throughout the years, the keynote speakers provide a time for enrichment, and the equipment show still holds the fascination I remember from my first Congress. In addition, I can choose a wider array of educational events to attend, including some because the topic just sounds interesting. I participate on committees and task forces and in educational sessions because I now have something to offer that has been provided to me as a result of my own Congress experience.

In conclusion, I liken Congress to a good sermon. When you hear a good sermon you walk out thinking that it was directed specifically at you; that somehow the individual preparing it had some special insight into your needs and provided you with exactly what you needed at that time. Whether this is your first or fifteenth Congress, I hope that you find the experience as rewarding as I have.

In addition to serving as APWA National President, Jerry M. Fay has been a member of APWA's Government Affairs, Finance, Bylaws and Rules, International Affairs, and National Nominating Committees. He can be reached at (602) 522-4306 or at jerry.fay@hdrinc.com.