Larry W. Frevert

We are there to do a job and we do it well

Larry W. Frevert, P.E.
APWA President

Editor's Note: As has been the custom in the past, each new APWA President is interviewed by the APWA Reporter at the beginning of each presidential term. In this manner, presidential plans are laid out, hopes revealed, and observations noted.

First, some background on President Larry W. Frevert, P.E., who is the National Program Director for Public Works with HDR Engineering, Inc., Kansas City, Mo. Frevert has worked in the public works field for 38 years, most of which have involved state and city government. He began his career working for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) as a Construction Inspector, eventually becoming District Maintenance and Traffic Engineer. After seventeen years with MoDOT, he worked briefly for Burns & McDonnell and then for the City of Kansas City, Mo., Public Works Department as the Division Engineer-Street and Traffic for nine years and the Deputy Director of Public Works for eight years. He also served two years for the Kansas City, Mo., Parks and Recreation Department as Assistant Engineering Director. In his role as National Program Director for Public Works at HDR, he assists local governments with their public works projects.

Frevert is a Past President of the Kansas City Metro Chapter, served as the chapter's Alternate Delegate, and was the Vice General Chairman of the 2002 Congress host committee and General Chairman of the 1997 North American Snow Conference host committee. He has served at the national level on the Board of Directors since 2002 (President-Elect, 2006-07), on the Finance Committee (2001-05; Chair, 2005-06), Engineering and Technology Committee (Chair, 2001-02), Congress Site Selection Committee (1997-2001; Chair, 1998-2001) and as the Board Liaison to the Fleet Services Committee (2002-06) and Facilities & Grounds Committee (2002-06).

How did you get into public works? A lot of people consider themselves "Army brats" because their dad or mom was a military career person. I consider myself a public works brat. My dad worked forty-three years for the state highway department in Missouri, and I know some people would say, "That's not public works, that's state government." But if you look at what they do, it really is public works. They are providing a public service, using public money, for something that benefits the public. So that is a form of public works.

I grew up watching my dad take care of public infrastructure in the form of highways. I thought it was common that everybody's phone rang at three o'clock in the morning with the message, "It's snowing, it's time to get the crews out." I know that's kind of a joke, but it was common at our house. Dad would get emergency calls and he'd have to respond. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, he was the supervisor and was responsible for people. In those days some of the rules were a little more lenient. If he'd get an emergency call, I'd go out with him. At that time in our history, the snowplows didn't have electronic-controlled hydraulics—you had to pump the old snowplow up and down. That was my responsibility—I'd sit over on the passenger side and pump that snowplow. I'd go out with him for other things such as flooding. Just watching what he did, and the care and concern he had for the public, I developed the idea that's what I wanted to do.

When I went into engineering school, I originally wanted to be a structural engineer and design bridges or airplanes, I wasn't sure which. After I got out of college I served eighteen months on active duty in the Army, after which we got married and decided to start our family, so I went back to work for MoDOT. I worked there during college and before I went in the Army, and I thought I'd probably be there three or four years. I stayed seventeen. We went from Jefferson City to Joplin to Kansas City, and then MoDOT said that to advance I'd have to move to Jefferson City again. It seems odd that we didn't do it because our family is all from mid-Missouri, but we were settled in Kansas City, my wife liked her job, our kids liked their school, and I put my family before my career. So I told MoDOT that I was sorry but I was leaving. I worked briefly for Burns & McDonnell, a Kansas City-based engineering company. But then I got a call to go to work for the City of Kansas City in the Public Works Department. I ended up spending nineteen years with the City of Kansas City.

So, I guess it was a coincidence of sorts. All of the stars seemed to align: education; then military service interrupted my career; then family was on its way so I came back to a previous job, and I was going to stay a short time but stayed a long time; and the experience and exposure that I had from my dad's work. Ultimately it just seemed like public works was the calling that I felt. And throughout my seventeen years at MoDOT, my seventeen years at Kansas City Public Works, and my two years at Kansas City Parks and Recreation, I have known some wonderful people and I've gotten very attached to the people who do that kind of work. Public works people, whether they are state highway, city public works or city parks and recreation, are unique people. They provide the service, they don't get paid the best money in the world, they don't get the best recognition, but they are there to do a job and they do it well.

What are some of the changes that you have seen in public works? First of all, it's the people. The young people coming into public works today have much better education and technology skills than I had when I came into the workplace. Young people today have so many tools, personal skills and technological skills and I think, "Boy, I wish I would have had that capability."

Beyond that, look at what technology has brought us. I got my first calculator that would add, subtract, multiply, divide, and take square roots, right before I took my P.E. exam. It cost me ninety-five dollars. Today, you could pick up a calculator like that for a couple of bucks at a dollar store. Look at the capabilities of that machine sitting on my desk [points at his computer] and the capabilities of that cell phone right there. The technology has just taken quantum leaps. As a young engineering student I was taking surveying, and it's phenomenal how far survey equipment has advanced to what we have today with the GPS equipment, the GIS technology, and with Automatic Vehicle Location.

What are some of your major accomplishments? Well, I grew up in my career working in maintenance and operations, so it's hard to look back and say, "That was a major project that I built." I don't have the r‚sum‚ that a lot of people have, such as bridges, or turnpikes, or something like that. Some of my thoughts are pretty simple, but there are a couple that stand out. With Kansas City, Missouri, I was very heavily involved when we bought back our streetlight system from the electric utility. We basically did a financial analysis and determined that it would be beneficial for the City if we bought and owned our streetlight system rather than leasing. That was huge. It was a four-year project, one hundred ten million dollars, bonded funds, and was a very beneficial program. We were able to upgrade the streetlight system. I think when it really came home to me was when my wife and I were going to a holiday party and we drove through a neighborhood with no lights. Two women were walking down the street and I remarked how dark their street was. We then drove by another street where the streetlight project had been completed and I saw how much safer it looked. I thought, "You know, we're really doing some good for the citizens of Kansas City."

Another project I want to mention is the replacement of the Chouteau Bridge. I was involved in the maintenance of the old bridge for several years. When we finally had the chance to replace it, I had the privilege of going to Washington, D.C. with then-Mayor Cleaver to receive the word that federal funds had been allocated for that project. Vice President Gore was there and we got to meet with him, and he ceremoniously presented funds to the City of Kansas City and the Missouri DOT for that project. Then later, when we cut the ribbon on our project, I remember Mayor Cleaver (who is now Congressman Cleaver), saying, "This bridge is a connection between Kansas City, Missouri, south of the river, and Kansas City North." It's a symbolic connection as well as a physical connection, because some people have had the idea that Kansas City North doesn't get the help that the rest of Kansas City does. But that bridge helped connect those two parts of the city, and what an important link that bridge is.

What will your priorities be as APWA President? Well, I have actually developed seven priorities which I shared with the Board of Directors during budget planning back in February and then with all the Technical Committee Chairs, the At-Large Directors and the senior staff at the President-Elect's Leadership Meeting in mid-August. The first is a continuation of something that Bill Verkest [Immediate Past National President] started, which is continued emphasis on chapter capacity building. Bill highlighted that as a focus area this past year and we've made great progress, but we're not done. That's one that I want to continue.

Also, I want to stress the importance of education at all levels in the Association. I want to make sure that as we prepare our educational offerings that we're reaching all of our membership. How do we make sure that the maintenance worker in the field or the maintenance supervisor is getting the education he or she needs at the same time that a design engineer working in an office is getting what he or she needs? There are so many different types of responsibility within APWA, both disciplines and levels, that we've got to have a multifaceted education program that provides service to as many of our members as possible.

I want to continue our strong financial foundation. We've made great progress over the last ten or fifteen years, and the work that the Board of Directors, the Finance Committee and the APWA staff have done to get our finances in the condition that they are in now is outstanding. It hasn't always been that way. We've had to make some tough decisions and we've made some prudent and wise decisions. We need to continue to make those types of financial decisions, but also, as our income has improved, we need to make sure we're investing that in services to our members. I believe we are with a number of new initiatives, but I want to make sure that we focus on both program delivery as well as our sound finances.

I want to continue and expand as appropriate our accreditation/certification. Many of our public works employees can benefit from having a credential. Whether they are a Certified Public Fleet Professional or a Certified Public Infrastructure Inspector, that credential basically says, "By completing a rigorous eligibility process and examination I have proven that I am a professional who has the knowledge, skills, and training to advance public works." So credentialing through accreditation for agencies and certification for individuals is a main focus.

I want to be proactive in promoting public works as a career for young people. We've got tough decisions that need to be made, and the people that can make those decisions need to be prepared. Not everybody's going to be an engineer, and that's fine. Some people are going to have an education in construction management, and that's important. A lot of people get an education in public administration, and that's important. We need to help young people identify the value of a public works career and pursue the education that will prepare them for that career.

I want to—and I want all of our membership to help with this—I want to expand the perception of "public works." I want people to see that public works and our Association are a benefit to them. We've got to reach out. When you have a National Public Works Week celebration, don't just invite the public works employees. Invite the parks and recreation employees, invite the planning and development employees, invite employees of public utilities. If we broaden our membership, great. But if we broaden the idea of what public works is and make these people feel welcome, even better.

Lastly, I want to provide our members with the tools to make them more effective advocates for public works. We do a fantastic job with our national advocacy efforts. We've got a great legislative affairs staff in Washington, D.C. But they are primarily focused on national legislation, as they should be. What's happening when you have legislation that's being proposed in the state house, in the city hall or at the county court building? We can provide our elected officials with the information and stand side-by-side with them when meeting with the governors and the legislatures and the county commissioners as we all advocate for the public infrastructure. Who better understands and knows that than the people who work in it every day? I am appointing a task force to develop an approach to improve government advocacy at the state and local levels.

You've been very active in APWA over the years at both the national and chapter levels. What are some of the highlights of your involvement with APWA? I really enjoyed my year as Chapter President. I guess I didn't realize how much I was enjoying it until mid-year when a KC Metro Chapter former President came up to me said, "Are you enjoying your year?" And I said, "Yeah, I really am." In the past year when I had the chance to go out as President-Elect and meet with chapters and install officers, I told incoming Chapter Presidents that I actually envy them because it's going to be a fantastic year—what an opportunity that is to work with your chapter. I still look back on that with a great deal of satisfaction.

I had the opportunity to be General Chair of the 1997 North American Snow Conference when it was in Kansas City. That's what really got me interested in APWA leadership. Working with national staff and working with the chapter—that was fun. It was hard work, but I really enjoyed it. Then I was Vice General Chair of the Congress in '02 when it was in Kansas City, and I really saw the value of the hard work.

Being appointed to the Congress Site Selection Committee was really a neat experience—meeting with chapters and convention and visitors bureaus, and talking about what Congress would be like in their community and what their involvement would be at the chapter level. The final decision-making is a challenge, but I must tell you it's very satisfying to have chaired the Site Selection Committee that recommended San Antonio for the 2007 Congress and then to become President there.

What is the greatest benefit you see in being a member of APWA? The people. There are 29,000 people and I don't know nearly enough of them, but the ones that I do know are fantastic people. As recently as yesterday I called up somebody and said, "I've got an issue I need some help with. How do I deal with this?" Sharing information on the phone, sharing information in person, sharing information through infoNOW...the network that you develop through APWA is just phenomenal. When I've had the privilege of going to chapter meetings and representing APWA and I talk with people, it's not always about problems. Some of it is sharing about family, some of it is sharing about golf or about fishing. But it's all about the friends that I've made.

When my wife Carol had breast cancer and I sent out an e-mail, we got calls from people within APWA from California to Boston, from Minnesota to South America, that they were praying for us. It's a family. I have a God-given family and I have a professional family. And that's the public works profession and my APWA association. And I feel very fortunate for that.

So, the people are first and foremost, but also the access to the resources, through the APWA website, to the office here and the office in Washington. When you need something the APWA staff is fantastic to work with. You can go to them and get information you need. It's just a fantastic group of people, both the staff and the members themselves.