APWA Accreditation for Bowling Green, Kentucky

Laura Thomas
Senior Office Associate
City of Bowling Green, Kentucky

December 15, 1997 was a historic day for APWA's accreditation program. On that day the City of Greeley, CO and the Village of Schaumburg, IL became the first two accredited agencies in North America. In the past ten years, an additional 41 agencies, making a current total of 43, have joined the ranks, with 41 in the United States and two in Canadian provinces.

Throughout 2007, accredited agencies, their staff members, evaluators, and elected officials will be sharing their experiences with the program. The ninth article in the series is presented below. For more information about the program, contact Ann Daniels at adaniels@apwa.net or (816) 595-5223, or visit the website at www.apwa.net/About/Accreditation/.

The following was written by Ms. Laura Thomas of Bowling Green, Kentucky's Department of Public Works. Laura was the administrative driving force in our department's effort to achieve APWA accreditation. As the person I designated to ultimately organize all the disparate pieces of information we had to develop and assemble for inspection, she is uniquely positioned to give you insights into our accreditation experience.

As director, my contributions were minimal. My single most important contribution was in giving Laura the opportunity to rally several similarly dedicated and smart individuals. My advice to anyone desiring to pursue accreditation—find a cadre of good people within your organization, establish a schedule for accomplishing task review and preparation, and designate a capable "organizer" for the effort. Good luck to others in their accreditation efforts.

Read on to get a first-hand appreciation of what accreditation can do for you, and what it took for Bowling Green to become the first APWA-accredited agency in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

E. Wood
Public Works Director

Being the first city in the state of Kentucky to be accredited has filled the Department with pride. Being one of the fastest growing cities in the state, we are proud to say our Department is at the top of the game.

The process of preparing for accreditation was simply wonderful. In 2002, our former City Manager suggested that we try the self-assessment phase, to see where we stood in relation to the standard practices of national public works agencies. Two years later my boss, the Director of Public Works, and I were talking about what achieving accreditation might entail. With our new City Manager's support and approval, we decided to go through with it.

We have a small department of less than sixty individuals. Consequently, 10% of our workforce participated in this effort. Our accreditation team consisted of Jeff Lashlee (City Engineer), Melissa Cansler (Assistant City Engineer), Patrick Henderson (Operations Technician), Michael Pillow (Operations Crew Supervisor), Shawn Whitlow (Operations Technician), David Long (Fleet Technician), and me (Senior Office Associate). Thus, Engineering, Operations, Fleet Division and Administration representation formed the basis of our effort. The team worked beautifully together, and it gave employees that normally work within a narrow area an opportunity to branch out and learn about other functions in the department, and in other city departments.

The automated tools APWA developed for entering and formatting departmental procedures were very helpful, in fact essential, in making preparation as painless and efficient as it could possibly be. We didn't have to guess what information was relevant or necessary to accreditation. And the APWA documents reminded us and forced us to delve into areas that, owing to infrequency of use, receive little attention on a daily basis and needed some effort to bring them up to scratch.

During the self-assessment phase of the process, we found that we conformed to most practices, but that we didn't have documented policies or procedures in place. We subsequently developed several documents that we now use on a daily basis including:

  • Quality Assurance, Quality Control (QAQC) Manual
  • Operation and Maintenance (O&M) Manual
  • Environmental Handbook
  • Computer Assisted Design (CAD) Standards Manual

The department worked well together during the self-assessment phase, and our staff enjoyed working with the sister departments. Our departmental team took pride in showing the sister departments just what we do in our daily tasks, and we gained greater insights into how Public Works' missions integrate with those of other departments. In assessing ourselves and preparing for inspection, we worked with Human Resources, Citizens Information and Assistance, Finance, Information Technology...basically all of the other departments in one form or another.

Pursuit of our accreditation goal enhanced our longstanding goal of bringing our department together, becoming more cohesive internally, and better able to support other departments and the citizens of Bowling Green. It also allowed us to view the services Public Works provides from others' perspectives.

When the time came for our site visit, the team was both excited and nervous. We had committed many hours of preparation to the task and hoped that we would be fortunate enough to achieve accreditation at our first inspection. And we made it through! When we needed support from sister departments, they were right there.

When the last day of the inspection came, when we had completed all of the Self-Assessment Practices and the APWA inspection team told us we had qualified for accreditation, I was speechless. For the team, that was the greatest feeling. We were very happy that all of our hard work had paid off. Four years after beginning our little odyssey, we are number 40 in the United States, and the first accredited agency in Kentucky. That's just wonderful, and it made us feel wonderful.

Gaining support from your community's elected and career management team, particularly that of your City Manager or Administrator, is important. Much of what APWA practices focus on doesn't lend itself to analysis of "bottom line" improvements. Budget reduction, cost savings, efficiency improvements and the like accruing to accreditation are hard to quantify. And you will bear costs for undergoing accreditation inspection. Consequently, leadership's support of your accreditation efforts is important.

I would recommend that all public works agencies pursue accreditation. Whether or not you ultimately become accredited, you will learn a lot about yourselves and your city, you will improve the day-to-day operation of your department, and you will have a platform from which you can launch yourselves to even higher levels of performance. Most of all, you will improve the teamwork in your department and the quality of the services you provide to your citizens.

Laura Thomas can be reached at (270) 393-3589 or laura.thomas@bgky.org.