What everyone always wanted to know about their public works department but were afraid to ask

Sam Lamerato
Superintendent of Motor Pool
City of Troy, Michigan
Chair, APWA Fleet Services Committee

Here in Troy, Michigan, we are attempting to educate our citizens on all aspects of city government through a program called the Citizens Academy. This is an eight-week program, one night a week, designed to take the group through each department within the city. It offers insight into the internal workings of each area. The city has recently graduated their third session.

One of the main objectives of the program is to improve citizen involvement in the various projects and programs offered by the city. It gives them a behind the scenes view of their city government.

The program is made up of citizens who have expressed a desire to learn the "nuts and bolts" of their city departments. Each academy group consists of 16-20 citizens.

The Department of Public Works is allotted an evening with the group to impress upon them the importance of each division within the department.

The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. when the group is picked up by bus from City Hall and transported to the DPW building. The first activity on the agenda is a tour of the DPW grounds. This allows them to see the variety of equipment and various materials necessary for the everyday operation of the different public works divisions. They are then invited inside for a light dinner.

After the dinner there is a PowerPoint presentation portion of the program. Each division presents a short summary of their duties and responsibilities to the citizens of the City of Troy. Administrative personnel from the Water, Streets, Stormwater, Refuse and Fleet Maintenance Divisions each make a presentation of approximately 20-30 minutes.

The purpose of the Fleet Maintenance segment is to allow the participants to walk away with an informed perspective of what it takes to operate a fleet of 500-plus pieces of equipment, including the costs of the acquisition of the equipment, repair parts, fuel, oil, staffing to perform the maintenance and repair procedures, etc. The Fleet Maintenance budget is discussed, giving them insight into where their tax dollars are spent. They are given an overview of the variety of equipment that is owned and maintained, from the smallest, such as chainsaws and pumps, to the largest, such as road graders, street sweepers, etc. The city's use of synthetic oils is discussed, outlining the savings produced by the use of the synthetic products.

At the conclusion of the presentations there is a question and answer session. Any questions the participants have are addressed and answered during this phase of the program.

After the presentations are complete, the group is given a complete tour of the DPW facility. During their tour of the Fleet Maintenance Division the citizens are shown the process of how work orders are opened and closed utilizing the Fleet Maintenance computer software program. A tour of the Parts Room gives them an idea of how many parts are stocked to perform the routine preventive maintenance and frequently occurring repairs that occur on the vast variety of city equipment.

They continue with a tour of the maintenance garage (approximately 20,000 square feet). This allows them the opportunity to observe where the city's fleet of equipment is repaired and maintained. They are given the opportunity to actually climb up and sit in various types of equipment that are in the garage at the time. This is something that, under normal circumstances, they would not have the opportunity to experience. Since our Fleet Maintenance Division is a two-shift operation, they also have a chance to ask questions of the mechanics on duty on the afternoon shift.

After the Fleet Maintenance presentation and tour of the repair facility, they have a much better understanding of the diversity of work performed by the Fleet Maintenance Division, from fatal accident inspections, specification writing for new equipment, and welding and fabricating, to diagnosis and repair of all city vehicles and equipment, including maintenance of Fire and Police Department vehicles.

The Citizens Academy allows the residents to experience and gain knowledge regarding facets of their Public Works Department that they normally would not have the opportunity to experience. The full spectrum of the responsibilities of the Department of Public Works is something that most residents do not fully understand.

Pertaining to the Fleet Maintenance Division, they walk away with a better understanding of just how important the Fleet Maintenance Division is to the smooth and efficient operation of all other city departments. Without properly operating vehicles and equipment, the other departments would not be able to complete their work in the efficient and timely manner that citizens have come to expect.

At the conclusion of the evening each participant evaluates the various departments on their presentation and site tour. The session ends at approximately 10:00 p.m., when the group is transported back to City Hall.

The citizens are not the only ones to benefit from the Citizens Academy program. It also allows the participants an opportunity to express any problems or concerns they may have. This may help staff identify new issues developing among residents and address them in a proactive manner.

After the completion of the full eight-week course, each participant "graduates" with the presentation of a certificate by the City Council.

To reach Sam Lamerato, call (248) 524-3392 or send e-mail to lameratosp@ci.troy.mi.us.