ASK ANN

"Our agency has had an employee recognition program for several years but enthusiasm seems to be dying. Any new ideas to help us perk it up?"

Recognizing employees is something that should be done whether they appear to be enthusiastic about it or not. As soon as you stop the program, there will be chatter about "one more perk taken away from the working guy," even if they don't submit names for consideration. Most of our accredited agencies have excellent employee recognition programs. My suggestion would be that the reward be worth the effort. One agency's Director gives one of his vacation days to the Employee of the Year. Others give gift certificates to local businesses, city-specific clothing items or premiums. Reserved parking spaces seem to be pretty popular, too. Think outside the proverbial box. You've heard that old saying, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten." If the department leadership wants the program to grow and be well received, they will need to assess what they are offering and how they award the recognition. If you have ideas to share, please send them to me and I'll share with everyone else.

"Are there any public works departments out there that actually reward their citizens for reporting potholes? If so, how effective are they?" Jim Proce, Public Works Director, Palm Bay, FL

As the recently-elected Mayor in my small town many years ago, I suggested that our City Council place donation buckets next to the biggest potholes in town because we could not get the voters to pass a one-cent sales tax to support repaving the streets and other transportation needs. The idea didn't go very far, except to the front page of the daily newspaper with a caption, "Mayor has crackpot idea." Oh, well, you win some, you lose some. However, all that aside, the City of Aurora, CO has a "Pothole of the Month" contest. City residents are encouraged to report the largest pothole they find to the public works department, via the Internet link. The contest runs from October 1-April 30 each year and the resident who locates the largest pothole each month wins a $50 gift certificate and the potholes are filled within 24 hours after the report. How is it working for them? I'd say it must be worth the effort for them to continue the program. Check it out on their website at www.auroragov.org/AuroraGov/Departments/Public_Works/Street_Services/Pothole_of_the_Month/index.htm.

"I saw a request for anecdotes about strange things found in solid waste collections to be included in a publication. Is that really true? What kind of stories are they looking for?"

Yes, it's really true. The members of the Solid Waste Management Technical Committee have heard about and experienced some unusual things in their careers and thought others might get a chuckle out of hearing them. So, if you have one to share, send it to Colene Vogel, Staff Liaison, at cvogel@apwa.net and she'll include it. I heard a great one recently that shows how jumping to conclusions got one group of county officials into an embarrassing position after workers at the county landfill turned up what appeared to be a severed, rotting human foot while cleaning the treads of a bulldozer. The left foot was hairless and had been sawed off neatly at the ankle. Local authorities suspected foul play and immediately dispatched 35 deputies and fire-and-rescue volunteers to sift through 127 tons of garbage with the hope they would unearth the rest of the victim. After a week of searching and numerous press reports on the growing mystery, medical examiners X-rayed the foot and determined that it did not come from a human after all, but rather belonged to an "apelike species." The homicide theories were dispelled but now the Bigfoot believers were encouraged. Primate experts chimed in, saying the foot did not appear to belong to any known species. But a week later, the mystery was solved after forensics experts finally identified the limb as a skinned and declawed black bear paw, most likely discarded by a taxidermist. The report indicated that the only mystery surrounding the foot was how the county officials would be removing it from their collective mouths! Share yours with us!

"I thought I remembered seeing someplace that APWA has a Code of Ethics. Is that true? Where can I find it?"

You remembered correctly. However, it is not called a Code of Ethics. APWA has adopted Standards of Professional Conduct and you can find it on our website at www.apwa.net/Documents/About/Standards_of_Prof_Conduct.pdf. Professional conduct is an issue we probably don't discuss often enough. We are each charged with the responsibility of protecting our citizens, employees, ourselves, and the Association. The Leadership and Management Technical Committee will begin a review of this document in October. If you have suggestions or comments you would like to have considered, please contact Bill Sterling, Chair, at sterling@publicworksmanagement.com.

"I know our City has an Emergency Preparedness Plan but I don't think it probably addresses all the essentials necessary in case of an emergency evacuation. Do you have any thoughts on what should be in that plan?"

I think you're right. We don't usually think about what we would need to take with us or how we would get it out in case of a true emergency that threatened our own facilities. Seems we think city facilities will somehow magically be protected. You could ask our Kansas neighbors in Greensburg about the validity of that thought. Actually, we should prepare all our own facilities just as if we were preparing to evacuate our own homes. The plan may be in place for evacuating the people in the building but we should also have an inventory of important items to preserve and their location, and most importantly, a continuity of operations plan for what to do if you can't go back to your own facility. If you don't have a plan in place for each of your facilities, there's no time like the present. It doesn't have to be a hurricane or tornado that isolates you from your facility; could be a fire, flood, ice storm or straight-line winds. The simple fact may be that you don't have time to stop and think before the emergency arises so I'd suggest you find a little downtime and draft your plans and write them down and place them where anyone who needs them can use them. "Better safe than sorry."

"This may seem like a dumb time to ask since mosquito-biting time is pretty well over for this year, but is there anything new available for us to use in treating for mosquitoes or ticks? We don't spray anymore to help protect the environment but our citizens still complain that we're not doing enough to ease the problem."

I hate to admit it but I can remember when we drove a fogger through the city neighborhoods with steam coming out just to satisfy the residents that we were trying to kill the mosquitoes. No real ingredients that could actually work but it made folks think we were protecting them. Of course, today we'd never do that, right? The environmental concerns involved with the most frequently-used repellent, DEET, frequently raise the hackles of environmentalists. I recently read an article from the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer about a natural compound, called callicarpenal, from the American beautyberry, that has been shown to repel mosquitoes, ticks, and fire ants. It's supposed to be as effective as DEET and more effective than Bayrepel. It's an attractive plant so it has eye appeal and certainly is more welcomed by environmentalists. The scientists involved in the research believe the market would be huge because 38 percent of Americans use a DEET-based product every year. There is work yet to be done since the compound would need to be registered with the EPA and methods of obtaining this compound cheaply need to be developed. You can follow progress at the website www.federallabs.org.

"We were all saddened by the destruction and loss of lives with the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis recently. Bridge safety and repair now seems to be a 'hot topic' and that's a good thing. However, we are equally as concerned about the safety of the dams that, should they be breached, could cause even greater disaster and loss of life. Is anything being done to bring this topic to the forefront?"

On a personal note, those of us in Missouri can certainly relate to the topic due to the breach in a dam at a reservoir near Lesterville, MO last year which sent a nearly 1.5-billion-gallon torrent rushing down Proffitt Mountain. The deluge flattened trees, sent drivers scrambling for safety, washed away vehicles and one home, and injured three children. While this may seem small in comparison to the damage that could occur with the Hoover Dam, it is equally as horrific for those who experienced it. Shortly afterward, another dam was breached on the island of Kaui which washed away two homes and killed seven people. Following these occurrences, House legislators heard testimony related to legislation that would reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program and a bill that would provide federal funding for the repair of publicly-owned dams. The National Dam Safety Act was reauthorized through 2011. A new chapter on dams, as well as one on bridges, is under consideration for the 6th edition of the Public Works Management Practices Manual to be released in September 2008.

"Were you serious about asking for recipes of special meals we fix when we have our departmental events?"

Was I ever! The Leadership and Management Committee's new series of articles—"Recipes for Success"—will begin in December and they really do want to include a tried-and-true recipe favorite of public works folks with each article. I have received a few but still need many more. Don't miss out on the fun! Send your recipe to me at adaniels@apwa.net.

"How many accredited agencies are there now?"

Happy you should ask. We are happy to welcome two new agencies to our list. Site visits were conducted in Mohave County, AZ and Davenport, IA during the month of September and both agencies will be recommended for accreditation by the time this article is in print. That will bring our total to 45. Way to go! Don't miss out on joining the group.

Ask Ann...

Questions are welcome.

Please address all inquiries to:

Ann Daniels
Director of Technical Services
APWA, 2345 Grand Blvd., Suite 500
Kansas City, MO 64108-2625

Fax questions to: (816) 472-1610
E-mail:
adaniels@apwa.net