New president committed to advocacy, education, and relationships

Editor's Note: As has been the custom in the past, each new 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 president, Richard Ridings.

First, a brief background on Ridings, who is the Vice President-Central Division at HNTB Corporation, Austin, Texas. Ridings worked in the public sector for 25 years, beginning in January 1968 as a laborer with the Water and Wastewater Department for the City of Maryville, Tennessee. Following that, he was Transportation Division Head for the City of Texarkana, Texas; City Engineer for the City of Farmers Branch, Texas; Director of Public Works and Engineering for the City of Austin, Texas; Assistant City Manager for the City of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Chief Executive Officer of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

Ridings retired from the public sector in December 1992, and went to work for HNTB Corporation shortly thereafter. He has been a vice president of the corporation since that time.

Ridings did his undergraduate work at the University of Texas-Arlington, receiving a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. He also has a master's degree in public administration from Southwest Texas State University. He has been a member of APWA for 31 years (lifetime member).

How do you see your role as president?

I believe my role as president is to ensure that the Strategic Plan, as developed by the members through their chapters and by the Board of Directors, is advanced in an effective and efficient manner during my tenure.

What areas do you intend to emphasize during your presidency?

I believe there are three tenets of APWA that I espouse-advocacy, education, and relationships. In the first-advocacy-we need APWA representatives to speak up for public works needs in the world. Second, in order to be effective advocates, we must educate ourselves as to the value of our public works infrastructure, its location throughout our communities, and the cost to maintain this infrastructure.

Finally, the proper way to achieve the two previous items is through relationships. By networking with each other, particularly during our educational meetings at Congress, through our chapters, and through our APWA-InfoLink and infoNOW systems, we can rapidly advance our programs throughout this country.

Are there new directions you would like APWA to explore during your term as president?

There are no new directions that I wish for us to explore. I wish for us to advance our current chapter-approved programs. Quite frankly, I believe that in order for us to do that, we must also expand our membership. Even though we now have approximately 26,000 members in APWA, we could be much more effective with the implementation of our Strategic Plan if we were able to increase our membership. I would solicit each member's help this year in expanding our membership at our chapter levels.

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

I don't see more involved as the issue. I believe the issue is for APWA to expand the current board-approved programs, and to encourage more of our members to sign up on APWA-InfoLink and infoNOW and use our current programs to expand our educational and advocacy processes.

Certainly these programs can be improved, and the best way to improve them is to have more of our knowledgeable members join them and become more active in APWA.

If there were one major public works problem you could solve, which would it be?

If I were king, I would solve the funding problems. In order to improve our public works funding, I sincerely believe that we have to effectively communicate to the taxpayers the status of our current public works infrastructure. Public works has, for too long, taken a back seat in funding other enterprises. It is now time for us to be advocates for the public trust, and let the public know what our infrastructure is worth and how much it is going to cost to take care of it.

I believe that if we were to effectively educate our voters and citizens, they would be more than happy to fund our public works needs. Trash cans, weeds, dilapidated public buildings, leaking sewer lines, and similar items aren't sexy items to talk about, which means that we have to be that much more effective in our communication processes.

The speech that you will hear me espousing all across the country over the next year concerns advocacy, education, and relationships. I am a product of APWA. I received all my informal education through APWA over the last 31 years, and I just feel like I owe APWA so much. I've learned a great deal, and I sometimes can't understand why others would not want to go through the same educational training programs that I went through with APWA to try to be a more effective public worker.

I've been very fortunate. I've moved around a lot, and one reason I've moved around is to try to learn more. It's just like going to different universities-you work in a different town, you get to go to a different university. And your library-that of public works knowledge and information-becomes expanded. Of course, now there is so much more available to people that I didn't have 30 years ago. With the Internet, the library of knowledge and information is significantly expanded, and we need to take more advantage of that and put that information to use.

I've been involved in successful $1 billion bond elections; one of the largest transportation construction programs in the U.S.; and water, wastewater and airport projects. I have seen knowledge and information shared with the taxpayers, and I've seen them respond by overwhelmingly approving the funding of public works infrastructure. So, I know it can be done. I'm not coming from an apotheosis situation, I'm coming from experience-experience provided me by APWA and these communities for which I have worked.

I wish I had the ability to take what's in my heart and take everything I know and get the information out, but it would do no good coming from me-it needs to come from the public works officials in their own communities to their citizens. So, it's our job to encourage those officials to be what they are capable of being.

If we had a public works official in every community who knew what he or she had in terms of the public works infrastructure-where it was, how much it was worth, and how much it was going to cost to maintain-and translate that into a tax rate and communicate it effectively, then we could solve our biggest problem in public works, which is financing our infrastructure. And, it's nothing new. What I'm talking about I learned 31 years ago, in APWA short courses taught by APWA members and staff.