William A. Verkest

The Best of the Best

William A. Verkest, P.E.
APWA President

No one in public works will dispute the fact that public works professionals, at all levels, are the very best when it comes to being public servants. While most of our residents may never, thankfully, be directly impacted by our coworkers in the police and fire service, everyone benefits daily by public works functions. Reminding ourselves of this responsibility should be a regular part of our work plan.

What are you doing to ensure your department is ready to meet the challenge? How are you equipping your staff and coworkers to provide the most responsive, cost-effective services to your community? Does the suggestion ever come forth from the administration that an "audit" of the department might be a good idea? Are you finding your department being asked to do "more with less"?

Ten years ago this summer, the first two public works agencies earned the coveted title of "accredited." The Greeley, CO and Schaumburg, IL Public Works Departments invested the time, energy, and resources to work through this "new program." While the agencies were different in size and composition, the staff at each location was charged with the task of reviewing their current operations in comparison with the newly-developed Public Works Management Practices Manual. I can only imagine the questioning looks that must have greeted Bill Sterling and Bob Miller (then-Public Works Directors with Greeley and Schaumburg, respectively) as they explained to their staff the process and the goals they hoped to achieve at the end of the process.

The process was so new, neither the agency staff nor the evaluators knew what to expect! Being the first is not always easy. But the belief in the process and the value that would be derived by such an in-depth review of their operation, an opportunity to evaluate what they were already doing well and then how they might improve upon what was lacking, and the development of a more cohesive and knowledgeable workforce into an award-winning team, led them to continue through the program.

But the question is, after all the effort, have both agencies continued on with the "continuous improvement" that leads to reaccreditation? Did the program live up to their expectations? The answer is an unequivocal "Yes."

Were they good role models for the program? Apparently so since they have now been joined by 40 additional agencies as I write this article and eighteen more are involved in the program.

Is there a magic formula for being an "accredited" agency? It must not be the size of the agency's population, since they range from 14,000 residents to 1-1/2 million residents. They differ in composition from a single special use district to the full-service agency. Whether they have 42 or 600 employees doesn't seem to matter.

What do they have in common?

  • A Public Works Director who has taken the initiative to lead his/her department to be the best they can possibly be by taking a serious look at all their operations and, more importantly, the supporting documentation that verifies that they are able to train their staff members well and prepare for the future growth within the agency.

  • Supportive staff in the form of an Accreditation Manager, Division Managers, mid-level supervisors, and front-line employees willing to look closely at how they are doing things and whether there might be room for improvement.

  • A supportive administration that encourages self-assessment and continuous improvement as a means of providing their residents with efficient, cost-effective and best management practices.

How do the agencies feel they are benefiting from the effort? Each month this year you can read an article from one of the agencies in the APWA Reporter. We've already heard how some who doubted the program originally have realized the value through the years. We know there have been actual documented cost savings in many instances by the improvements instituted. Reports of new respect for public works within the overall agency indicate a better understanding of the interaction between departments. We have talked with Public Works Directors brand new to an agency just preparing to complete the accreditation program who feel the program was the best introduction to a new department they could have experienced.

Moreover, I have been more than honored to personally present three certificates of accreditation. In each case, the sense of accomplishment, the overt pride and the demonstrated feel-good results reflected on the faces of the people who made it happen more than speak for the worthiness and success of this significant APWA program.

Please join me in congratulating the 42 agencies from 15 states and two Canadian provinces as we celebrate ten years of accreditation. Will you join the growing number of those we recognize as "the Best of the Best"?