APWA accreditation promotes good government - public works style

Jacquie Proctor
Accreditation Manager
City of Berkeley Department of Public Works

Berkeley, California has just over 100,000 residents but it is known far beyond its borders for its excellent university and history of political advocacy. Initiating the boycott of South Africa, Berkeley is credited for leading the economic pressure that ended apartheid. The City's innovations have also included public works functions such as the first public curb-cutting program for disabled access and a wide range of traffic calming barriers. The City's 40 appointed commissions exemplify the priority given to public participation.

In support of this, the Department of Public Works utilizes a lengthy public notice process, works extensively to develop consensus on construction projects with multiple interest groups, and provides setup and cleanup for almost weekly community events. They have perfected riot-proof litter containers (fireproof, too heavy to be thrown through a window, non-rollable, and too pointed to sit on), broken window board-up, and other protest-march cleanup procedures. Expert at graffiti and illegal poster removal, the department also works with a non-profit organization to hire the homeless for litter pickup.

While providing such unique-to-Berkeley services, the department has struggled with reduced resources since the passage of the 1977 property tax initiative, Proposition 13. The resulting deferral of preventative maintenance to an aging infrastructure has stretched the department's remaining resources to the point that emergency complaints have become the norm rather than the exception.

Concerned about the decline in a service "as important to the city as police and firefighters," City of Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean introduced a resolution requesting that the department apply to APWA for accreditation to help get it back on the road to long-term health. Wary that this was just one more "flavor of the day" public works fix-it plan, the staff reluctantly added it to their already very long to-do list. However, after an initial orientation by accreditation experts Bill Cook and Ed Warn, they realized that this was a very unique opportunity to fix the department the way they knew it should be done. Developing a vision to make Berkeley a leading city in the country by being an outstanding provider of public works services, completion of the process was put on the fast track by then-Director of Public Works, Andreas Campos-Kreutzer.

A broad-based committee was formed to begin the first phase of the accreditation process: a self-assessment of compliance with the 446 practices contained in APWA's Public Works Management Practices Manual. Membership included the director, division managers, supervisors, analysts, and line staff from each of the five divisions. Subcommittees were organized for each chapter of the APWA manual which, in itself, improved communication across division lines among staff who worked on the same infrastructure but rarely met each other. Engineers, maintenance supervisors, and skilled laborers visited each other's work place in order to achieve a common objective of complying with the management practices in their particular infrastructure chapter. Administrative chapters on strategic planning, personnel practices, budget, records, and safety quickly demonstrated the need for more consistency throughout the department on these management practices.

The committee met every two weeks for six months to review their self-assessment reports and recommended improvements. Staff competed with each other as to who would be able to finish their reports for the next meeting (attendance by the director was a key incentive). The author's self-assessment rating for each practice received feedback but was not overridden-even by the director. The consensus was that the impartial APWA evaluators would be the best judges of compliance with the accreditation requirements.

In less than a year, more than 400 management practices were documented and reviewed. The results indicated that the department was compliant in more areas than had been expected. Bill Cook and Ed Warn were invited back a second time to review the self-assessment results. They added a few more to the list of improvements to be completed in the second phase of the accreditation process. The committee had been asked at the start of the process how well the department was performing and responded that it was "barely surviving." In just one year, the committee had become a team and reported significant improvement in the department's effectiveness. Achievement of their peak performance goal was now expected in three years rather than five. The time required to complete this "extra work" had also turned out to be less than feared and the immediate improvements made the modest cost clearly worth it.

The intense scrutiny of the Berkeley community and press can make life difficult for City departments found to be deficient in any given area. So many of the self-initiated improvements were completed as soon as the need was identified. By April 2000, with new Director of Public Works, Rene Cardinaux, the team agreed that they were ready to complete the third phase of the process: Open their doors (and closets) to an onsite inspection by APWA selected peers who would impartially determine eligibility for full accreditation. The evaluation team included leaders of the three previously accredited agencies: Gary Taylor from Greeley, Colorado; Henry Wong from Coquitlam, British Columbia; and Alex Attiah, formerly of Schaumburg, Illinois. Also participating were two other accreditation veterans, Dennis Ross from APWA and Eric Lamberton from Newport News, Virginia.

With the Mayor initiating the process, the department couldn't afford to fail. The staff were both thrilled and relieved to pass the evaluation with the highest level of compliance of any accredited agency to date. Berkeley was granted Provisional Accreditation with 94 percent of the practices in compliance. APWA Region VIII Director, Leon Lancaster, presented the Full Accreditation award at a December City Council meeting. Co-presenter Jon Ingenthron, Risk Management representative on the APWA Accreditation Council, described how departments have reduced liability expenses after achieving accreditation.

In addition to these potential long-term savings, the department's effectiveness had been enhanced with more than 100 operational improvements together with substantially improved morale, communication, and teamwork. Mayor Shirley Dean and members of the City Council were proud to say that the City of Berkeley now held another very unique distinction-its Department of Public Works was the first in California to achieve accreditation. Acknowledging how hard and how well the department works, the importance of the department's services to public safety and health was reaffirmed with proposals for increased salaries and funding for infrastructure improvements.

Ed Warn's congratulations at the ceremony summarized the significance of this effort for APWA and public works agencies throughout the country. "I can unequivocally say this accreditation program represents the best form of good government, public works style," Warn said. "Berkeley public works now ranks among the few brave progressive pioneers that have achieved accreditation in North America."

For more information, please contact Jacquie Proctor at 510-981-6311 or JProctor@ci.berkeley.ca.us.

Editor's Note: William B. Cook is the executive office administrator for Snohomish County, Washington and was a charter member and first chairperson of APWA's Accreditation Council, the group responsible for accrediting agencies. Bill is also the author of two APWA publications on performance measurement and management. Ed Warn is the assistant city engineer for the City of St. Paul, Minnesota and was an editor of the Third Edition of the Public Works Management Practices Manual, which contains recommended practices for public works agencies. St. Paul was one of the earliest agencies to successfully complete Self Assessment using the manual. Dennis H. Ross, P.E., is the director of professional development for APWA and is responsible for administration of the Self Assessment and Accreditation programs. Dennis can be contacted at APWA headquarters at 816-472-6100 or dross@apwa.net.