The 2005 Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year

An integral part of APWA's celebration of National Public Works Week is the announcement of the Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year. This recognition of top public works professionals is in its 46th year. Presentation of the individual awards will be made this month at luncheons or functions hosted by the recipients' respective APWA chapters.

The 2005 Top Ten Review Committee consists of committee chair Gordon R. Garner, P.E., Vice President-Global Water Team, CH2M Hill, Prospect, KY; Mark T. Calhoun, P.E., Assistant City Manager, City of Henderson, NV; Phil Pindzola, Director of Public Works, City of Johnson City, TN; David H. Barber, P.E., Director of Public Works, Village of Downers Grove, IL; and Donald J. LaBelle, Public Works Director, Alameda County, CA.

Winners of the 2005 Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year Award are:

William P. Baxter, P.E.
Public Works Director
Orange County Public Works
Orlando, Florida

William P. Baxter manages the Orange County Public Works Department, where he supervises 600 employees who work in the Divisions of Development Engineering, Highway Construction, Traffic Engineering, Transportation Planning, Fiscal and Administration, Stormwater, and Roads and Drainage. One of the larger public works departments in Florida, Orange County has an operational budget of $70 million and a Capital Improvement Budget totaling over $194 million. In addition to his role as Public Works Director, Baxter serves as the County Engineer.

Baxter has been a leader in advancing needed infrastructure improvements in Orange County with the use of various types of public-private partnerships. He has used extensively a method for road construction whereby developers provide needed right-of-way together with approved construction plans, and Orange County provides the funding for the actual construction. This technique saves considerable time and allows the County funds to produce many more lane miles of highway. He is using this technique currently to acquire the right-of-way and construction plans for the Alafaya Trail extension. It will result in this extremely important corridor being completed years ahead of schedule.

Baxter has been very involved in the Orange County community. He has served the Boy Scouts of America as an adult scout leader in various positions on the district and council levels, and has received the District Award of Merit. He is also involved in his church and has served on the parish school board and the church building committee where he oversaw the construction of a one million dollar facility.

Leslie P. Bland
Director of Public Works
City of Fenton, Michigan

Leslie P. Bland is the Public Works Director for the City of Fenton, Michigan, located in southern Genessee County. The City consists of 60 miles of streets spread over a four-mile square radius. Fenton has 170 acres of parks, 50 miles of sanitary sewer, 40 miles of storm sewer, and 40 miles of water main, along with an iron removal water treatment plant and two water storage tanks. Bland has been Fenton's Director of Public Works since 1979 and began his career with the City in 1969.

When Bland became Public Works Director he implemented a five-year Street Capital Improvement Program for the City's 60 miles of local streets. The CIP established a minimum average of $200,000 per year expenditure for paving of some streets within the City. The CIP established the first year of the plan's projects for implementation in the next fiscal year and laid out four more years of proposed projects for the council to review. This popular CIP program has improved efficiency in the DPW, enhanced the quality of life in the City, and led to greater political harmony. The program is still in place today.

Bland has a solid record of accomplishments during his more than 35 years with the City of Fenton. Under his leadership his community has become a model for public works excellence and political harmony. He is recognized as a community leader in Fenton and received many awards from the Jaycees, Lions Club and the Chamber of Commerce. Bland has been chosen to serve on Michigan Municipal League committees and boards, has been very involved with APWA for almost three decades, and is a founder of the Michigan Public Service Institute.

Cheryl F. Creson
Municipal Services Agency Administrator
Sacramento County, Califor

In March 2004, Cheryl F. Creson was appointed as Administrator of the Municipal Services Agency, a new agency in Sacramento County, California. The agency, which employs approximately 2,500 staff, was formed by combining departments from the Public Works Agency with Community Development and Neighborhood Assistance to provide services similar to those of a city. Under Creson's leadership, the agency is providing services closer to its constituents by opening satellite offices and providing Service Area Managers as ombudsmen to individual communities in the unincorporated County.

The experience Creson has accumulated over her career in the private and public sectors has culminated in her current assignment as Municipal Services Agency Administrator. As a registered nurse and subsequent work in water quality, solid waste, water supply, transportation and air quality, she achieved an appreciation for protection of public health and the role public works plays in that protection. Her technical skills were developed during her education as an engineer and early years of engineering.

Creson has maintained strategic planning as a standard operating principle throughout the Municipal Services Agency. An overarching annual Agency Plan is produced by the Cabinet (Directors and Administrator). Goals are developed at the Cabinet level and staff input is used to determine the tasks to implement the goals. The completed plan includes assigned staff, milestones and measurements. Each department within the agency also prepares an annual plan guided by and complimentary to the Agency Plan. Budget decisions are based on the plans and measurements are reflected in the budget.

Jimmy B. Foster, P.E.
Director of Public Works
City of Plano, Texas

As Director of Public Works for the City of Plano, Texas, Jimmy B. Foster is responsible for three divisions (Public Works Operations, Environmental Waste Services, and Equipment Services) comprised of over 300 employees and having combined budgets totaling in excess of $70 million annually. During Foster's tenure, the City has adopted business plans for the Environmental Waste Services Division and the Equipment Services Division.

Having received numerous awards, the Solid Waste Division is an industry leader in the United States. The Public Works Operations Division has developed a comprehensive water conservation program that has developed a solid foundation of strong contacts, positive public image, and excellent education that has seen a gradual decline in the per capita usage of water in the City.

Foster has lived and worked in 55 countries, assisting in the development of humanitarian projects designed to improve the people's quality of life and to provide hope for a better future. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington and a Master of Arts degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a licensed professional engineer in the States of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Virginia. Foster is currently serving as the Texas Delegate to the House of Delegates, and is the past chair of the APWA International Affairs Committee. He is currently a member of the APWA Finance Committee and the APWA Urban Forum. He is also involved in providing training and instruction in the public works field and is active in several professional associations and his church.

Richard D. Goecke
Public Works Director
City of Las Vegas, Nevada

Richard D. Goecke is the Director of Public Works for the City of Las Vegas, Nevada. He is responsible for managing the Public Works Department that plans, designs, constructs, operates and maintains City public use facilities, the roadway and traffic network, wastewater and stormwater management systems, and regulates private development. He manages a work force of approximately 400 employees and an operating budget of over $100 million, and has served as the department's director since 1985. The City of Las Vegas Public Works Department became an APWA accredited agency in April 2005.

Goecke has established himself as a leader and innovator in the key areas of transportation infrastructure, wastewater management, and flood control. His development of an award-winning water reclamation facility, his leadership on addressing long-term wastewater management issues through a regional coalition of Los Vegas wastewater agencies, his advocacy for energy and cost saving through a global retrofit of traffic signals to LED technology (now implemented), and his implementation of a traffic signal impact fee program (the first in Nevada) are a few recent examples of his many contributions.

As a long-time active member of APWA, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, and the Clark County Regional Flood Control District, Goecke has worked diligently to resolve the difficult problems facing the City of Las Vegas. Also, as a member of the Clean Water Coalition, he negotiated an agreement to establish funding allocations and the budget for the Las Vegas Wash activities in fiscal year 2005-2006.

Richard P. Merson
Director of Public Works
Town of Needham, Massachusetts

Richard P. Merson has dedicated his entire 35-year career to public works in the Town of Needham, Massachusetts. He started as an intern at the Department of Public Works in 1970 and assumed the directorship in 1992. The Department, which employs 84 full-time employees and 15 seasonal employees, operates under four distinct budgets including a tax-supported General Operating Budget and three separate fee-supported utility Enterprise Fund Budgets. All together the combined budgets total nearly $16 million annually.

Merson has been instrumental in a variety of traffic calming efforts in Needham. For many years, Town officials and residents assumed that the speed and travel patterns of commuters were something that could not be changed. By proposing various traffic calming measures and regulatory changes, Merson was able to address some longstanding traffic issues in Needham. He also led the effort to completely redesign the recycling and transfer which greatly increased the ease of recycling, reduced waiting times and improved resident safety.

Merson has been very active in community service in and around Needham, having been a member of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Massachusetts Clean Water Council, Needham Municipal Building Maintenance Board, Needham Local Emergency Planning Committee, Needham Traffic Management Advisory Committee, Needham Integrated Pest Management Committee, Needham Parking Management Team, United Cerebral Palsy of Metro Boston, Alliance for Children Adoption Agency, Boy Scouts of America, Rotary Club of Needham, and Needham Pop Warner Youth Football.

J. Michael Sullivan, P.E.
Regional Vice President
Gresham, Smith and Partners
Nashville, Tennessee

J. Michael Sullivan's 30-year engineering career has included project management and leadership in the broad field of public works while with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Nashville and Louisville Districts, the Department of Public Works for Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County, and Gresham, Smith and Partners (GS&P), one of the Southeast's largest architecture, engineering and planning firms. He is currently a Regional Vice President for GS&P and is responsible for managing the operations of one-half of the firm's technical resources across four divisions comprised of approximately 300 employees, while retaining duties as Engineering Division Director.

Sullivan continues his contributions to the City of Nashville as GS&P's Principal-in-Charge for the planning and design of all infrastructure, streetscapes and greenways for Rolling Mill Hill, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency's mixed-use development near the downtown business district. Sullivan's record of achievement with past projects and his reputation for efficient management were key factors in GS&P being awarded the infrastructure contract for this important development.

Sullivan recently completed a successful term as president of APWA's Tennessee Chapter. During this term, he presided over the 50th Anniversary of the chapter. He marked the occasion by announcing the first successful recruitment of five high-level officials of the Tennessee Department of Transportation as new members of APWA. He was also successful in working with Governor Bredesen in granting a proclamation declaring the first "National Public Works Week" in Tennessee in May 2004.

Brian R. Usher
Director of Public Works & Engineering
City of Zion, Illinois

As Director of Public Works & Engineering for the City of Zion, Illinois, Brian R. Usher is responsible for the full spectrum of public works services including streets, water distribution, wastewater collection, forestry, stormwater management system, fleet services, municipal engineering, and as a member of the City's Pre-Development Team. Located in the far northeast corner of Illinois, the City of Zion is in the early throes of a building boom, with over 600 homes expected to be constructed in the next three years.

Usher has been the driving force behind several monumental City projects. He completed a comprehensive roadway review and undertook an $8 million, two-year rehabilitation project on 15 miles of the City's east-west roads. Costs were kept to a minimum through Usher's concentration of work in geographic areas avoiding costly equipment haulage charges and by utilizing different techniques in each area dependent on the exact conditions and needs. He has also been an integral part of the development team for Trumpet Industrial Park, where he took a proactive approach to amend the service area boundary to secure the only available sanitary sewer service.

Usher has served as an adjunct instructor at the FEMA Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland since 1997. In this role, he instructs public officials from across the country on the role public works plays in emergency planning, response and recovery. The current chair of APWA's Emergency Management Committee, Usher testified last year before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management on behalf of APWA.

Douglas W. Wesselschmidt
City Engineer
City of Shawnee, Kansas

As City Engineer for the City of Shawnee, Kansas, Douglas W. Wesselschmidt is responsible for administration of the City's Capital Improvement Program (CIP) with an annual outlay of approximately $15 million per year. His responsibilities include making application and acquiring funds at the federal, state and county levels. The CIP projects include street improvements, storm drainage improvements, park improvements, traffic signals, streetlighting and municipal buildings. He also oversees the design and construction of public improvements that are related to private development activities.

As City Engineer of this Kansas City metropolitan community, Wesselschmidt has led the engineering efforts to provide quality street and storm drainage improvements for the City of Shawnee. He has worked to help the City bring in monies for their stormwater and road issues by actively working on both the Stormwater Management Committee known as SMAC and on the County Assistance Road Program (CARS) as a Technical Review Committee member working along with the other 19 cities in Johnson County. Wesselschmidt was also responsible for the implementation of standards and specifications tailored to conditions in Shawnee, while maintaining general uniformity with the Kansas City metro area.

Wesselschmidt has been very active in APWA at the national and chapter levels, including membership on the National Membership Committee and as the International Relations Chair for the 2002 Congress Host Committee. He is also a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Design-Build Institute of America, and the International Municipal Signal Association.

Mitch Zamojc, P.Eng.
Commissioner of Public Works
The Regional Municipality of Peel
Ontario, Canada

Since 1996 Mitch Zamojc, P.Eng., has been the Commissioner of Public Works for the Region of Peel, the second largest municipality in Ontario with a population of one million. As Commissioner, Zamojc is responsible for a department of over 650 employees and for five primary program areas: Water, Wastewater, Roads, Waste Management, and Business and Information Services. The department has an operating budget of over $347 million with a Capital Program of nearly $250 million.

Due to Zamojc's leadership, in 1997 the Region of Peel developed a 20-year Long Term Waste Resource Management Strategy (LTWRMS), formally known as the Long Term Waste Management Strategy. The LTWRMS outlined the approaches to providing waste management services and initiatives over 20 years. The LTWRMS provided the conceptual and macro-scale direction for a wide range of Regional waste management programs and initiatives. Currently the Region of Peel is diverting 45 percent of waste from landfills. The goal of the LTWRMS is to divert 70 percent of waste from landfills overall by 2016.

Nationally, Zamojc has encouraged considerable staff resources towards the Canadian National Water and Wastewater Benchmarking Initiative, a program that won APWA's Management Innovation Award in 2003. Zamojc also continues to support staff involvement in the Infraguide project, the cosponsored Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure by the National Research Council of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. This is the same program that the Canadian Public Works Association was designated as founding member status.

Editor's Note: To see the Top Ten recipients from 1960 to 2005, go to APWA's National Awards Program web page at