A time to say "thanks"

Richard Ridings, P.E., R.P.L.S.
APWA President

How would you respond if someone asked you, "What is the significance of National Public Works Week?" For me, National Public Works Week is a time for our citizens to stop and reflect on the everyday heroes in public works who are committed to the communities they serve. It is a time to say "thanks" for public works.

Around this time each year I tend to look back fondly at my tenure with the City of Austin's Public Works Department and the activities in which we participated during National Public Works Week. Each year the Texas governor and the Austin mayor and city council acknowledged National Public Works Week through proclamations. The mayor and city council also recognized public works employees and the special programs they carried out, along with the significant new project completions that occurred in public works construction and maintenance around the city. We took the time to recognize the work of our public works professionals, and that is still being done to this day in Austin and many communities across the United States and Canada.

I can recall some of the other communities where I have worked, some of the chapters that I have visited, and the events that have taken place, such as the equipment rodeos and the receptions for public works employees. The outstanding rodeos I attended in the last few weeks in Oklahoma and Florida generate a sense of pride and accomplishment from our coworkers. There are a number of great programs all across the U.S. and Canada that occur during National Public Works Week that remind the public of our work and let public works professionals know they are appreciated. And, at a time like this and after a year like the one we just had, it is even more important to remember that it is public works professionals who are the First Responders who clean up after disasters, and who put our infrastructure, our buildings, and our lives back together again.

"Top Ten" a great honor
Of course, a major highlight of National Public Works Week is the disclosure of the Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year. It is one of the greatest of all honors to be recognized by your peers as one of the top leaders in public works. As I tell everyone who asks me about it, one of the best things about putting together your résumé is that you can list as your first item that you were recognized as one of the Top Ten Leaders in Public Works, and that could be the only item on your résumé—it would be enough. The Top Ten is a tremendous, and humbling, award given by APWA. I can think of no greater honor than to be recognized by your peers as one of the leaders in your profession.

A number of other things go along with being named a Top Ten. During National Public Works Week receptions and special ceremonies are held recognizing the Top Ten leaders in their communities, either during city council, county authority, or state government meetings. Being named a Top Ten was certainly an honor for me, and I know that the ten people who have been selected this year will also appreciate the receptions and ceremonies in their home towns. At my reception in Oklahoma City one of our past presidents, Ron Jensen, presided over the meeting, and my family, coworkers, and friends were there. It was a very humbling experience, and I was certainly very appreciative to APWA and all of my fellow professionals for the award.

One of the highlights of being APWA President is to be able to call the Top Ten Leaders and let them know that their peers in APWA have selected them. I have just notified the recipients, and it was a pleasure to listen to their reactions. For me in 1988, it was a great phone call to receive. I have enjoyed carrying on that tradition.

As you read this month's issue of the Reporter, stop and think about your fellow employees serving their communities. Whether they are in the public or private sector, they are committed to serving their communities and are the everyday unsung heroes of our countries. Please pause for a moment and thank everyone you can, especially your supportive family, for the unselfish hours they contribute on a daily basis to quality public works service. It is truly a privilege to be a part of the public works family and I thank you for what you have done and will continue to do in service to the public.


1. FHWA rates 59 percent of America's urban and rural roadways in poor, mediocre, or fair condition. Almost one-third of all fatal highway accidents are a result of substandard conditions and outdated safety features (FHWA). Over the next five years, we will need around $350 billion to address these needs (AASHTO).

2. EPA cautions that unless we renew our joint commitment to maintaining and upgrading our wastewater facilities, within 15 years our rivers, lakes and streams will again resemble their condition 30 years ago (EPA).

3. The One-Call System International's Standardized Data Committee reports that in 2000, 37 call centers reported 19,040,060 calls compared to 17,867,339 in 1998 for 60 call centers (2001 OCSI Center Data Report).