Life motivates us all

Thomas W. Trice
APWA President

  Tom Trice

Editor's Note: The following is a candid interview with Thomas W. Trice, the new president of APWA. Hailing from Royal Oak, Michigan, Trice began his career in public works in 1971 for the City of Southfield, Michigan, where he operated street sweepers, road graders, backhoes, and snowplows. After working as the Public Works Supervisor for the City of Farmington Hills, Michigan for five years, Trice joined the City of Royal Oak in 1979 as the Superintendent of Public Works and remained in that position for nearly 15 years. He was the Director of Recreation and Public Service at Royal Oak for 11 years. In August, he completed service as interim City Manager at Royal Oak. At the beginning of September he was named the city's first Deputy City Manager.

A member of the Michigan Chapter, Trice has been very active during his 25 years with APWA. At the national level, he has been on the Board of Directors since 1997, and was the Finance Committee Chair and Treasurer of the Association (99-01), Membership Committee Chair (97-98), and member of the Nominating Committee (96-97) and the House of Delegates Executive Committee (1996). At the chapter level, he has served as the Chapter Delegate and as a member of the Chapter Education Foundation. Trice's commitment to the public works profession was recognized by APWA in 1997 when he received the award for Top Ten recognition.

A Vietnam War veteran, Trice received the Purple Heart for wounds received in military action, the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor, and Vietnam commendation medals in 1971.

What will be your priorities as APWA President?

The priorities of the association have to be our membership. I don't necessarily mean growing our membership numbers, although that is important and I'd really like to see that happen. We need to be able to provide the membership with what they want, and they just need to tell us what that is. Two projects I am very interested in are the Public Works Institute process which we've got a task force working on right now, and a master's degree in management for public works. If we can provide those types of services, we'll be able to continue the educational process, meet our goals for education, and be the "go to" group for public works. This will also attract new members.

What are the most important benefits you see in being a member of APWA?

The most important benefits are the education that you get and the contacts that you make. Both just make your life so much easier. I'm sure that's redundant and everyone has said it, but that's what the number-one thing is.

What do you believe are your greatest accomplishments at Royal Oak?

I think they are fiscal responsibility, and building a public services department that responds to the citizens. We get done what we're asked to get done, and we do it in an efficient way.

Who have been your mentors and who inspires you?

Several people come to mind. Ralph Sherman, the retired Motor Pool Superintendent at Royal Oak. Bob Shaw, who actually hired me into the public works field as a supervisor thirty years ago, and my very close friends and public works professionals Henry Lybeck and Les Bland. Russ Gronevelt is the guy who actually got me involved in APWA. Lew Bender is still there to keep me focused on the right areas. And when I look at the Hultquist family it reminds of their dedication to APWA for fifty-plus years. Bob Albee is still there to remind me that I will be the APWA President. Each of these "mentors" had a positive effect on my career in public works and I am grateful to each of them. It does take a village.

What motivates you each day?

Life motivates us all. It's just a matter of enjoying what you do, and being willing to get up every day and start doing it.

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

I think we are involved in just about everything we can be right now. To say we should be more involved in one area is difficult because it may require us to deemphasize another important area, and we are already spread thin. Like many of our public works departments, APWA is an umbrella organization. We have to look at what the "hot topics" are at the time and respond to our members' needs. Right now, homeland security and leadership and management issues are in the forefront, as well as the ever-present legislative issues that affect all that we are able to do.

Every day must be an educational process, no matter who you are or what you do. You have to learn something new every day. It's no different in public works than it is in anything else.

How will you juggle your responsibilities as president with your position at Royal Oak?

Gingerly (laughs). Actually, my new boss, Tom Hoover, is a member of the International City/County Management Association [ICMA] and ex-APWA member. He was an engineer for the City of Toledo, Ohio thirty years ago and joined Royal Oak from Massachusetts where he was City Manager there. He understands the benefits of being an active member of a professional association.

If it's not being too forward, how did you get your Purple Heart?

Let me say I am not a hero. I was doing my job in April 1971 as a Military Police Officer for the 218th MP Company when we were ambushed just south of the DMZ [Demilitarized Zone]. We were on a traffic accident investigation at the time. Our patrol was sent to the southernmost checkpoint in our area of our operation. It was 6:00 at night in the Ashaw Valley, and when the sun goes down there it's like somebody turned out the lights. There's no twilight, it's just dark.

We were attacked by the North Vietnamese army. They set up an ambush for us on the way back thinking we were there to pick up a convoy. My partner, Douglas E. Crooks, 504th MP Company, was killed, and I took a piece of a bullet down the side of my head that hit the windshield of the jeep. I took shrapnel through my right arm, through my back, and both legs. I've still got some in my lip. But I was the lucky survivor, because everything I had was superficial. It took about five or six weeks to rehabilitate, and after that they put me on administrative duty at an advisory command post.

Before I was injured, I'd been doing undercover work for the criminal investigation division. I also did a lot of convoy preparation, putting security onto truck convoys and things of that nature. But after I was wounded, they didn't want me back out doing physical duty. I did the administrative work for about six or eight weeks, and then I called the colonel and said, "I've had enough of this, I gotta get back on patrol. I can't just sit here." I finished my tour as a duty MP on patrol.

Any final thoughts as to your upcoming year in office?

I'd like to point out that the president of APWA does not make decisions or launch programs on his or her own. The president builds a strong consensus among the members of the Board so that there is broad support for where the organization is headed. A wise Board member, Bill Shane, reminded me long ago that "we are not anointed, but are appointed" to these positions by the members we serve. I will never forget that sage advice.