by Jim Hunt – author, speaker, consultant
I’m often asked who is the most important person in city government and I always give my vote to the Public Works Director.
While the Mayor and Council and City Manager are credited by many as being the people who make the city work, the Public Works Director has some skills that are unique and needed in virtually every city in the world. I had the opportunity to see this up close and personal during my time in local government.
The job of Public Works Director is a combination of Manager, Engineer, Weatherman, Estimator, Heavy Equipment Operator, Solid Waste Expert and a hundred other jobs and skills. When a snowstorm is approaching and most of the citizens are rushing to the grocery store, the Public Works Director is organizing the salt trucks and manpower to deal with hundreds of miles of city streets and thousands of dollars of overtime. As the evening wears on, he must make decisions on what streets to plow and how many workers to send home. It is a masterful dance of skill and ‘seat of the pants’ experience.
In the Summer, the Public Works Director manages the repair of broken sidewalks, failing sewer lines and cutting miles of brush and high grass. Paving is also done in the Summer and it involves huge machines that scrape up the old pavement and laying down a fresh ribbon of asphalt on narrow streets and parking lots. The Public Works Director also must manage a fully equipped mechanic garage that keeps a fleet of vehicles and heavy equipment running in the worst of conditions.
Another job that is probably not on the top of the list for the Public Works Director is dealing with the politicians and the public. Someone always thinks that their problem is the one that should be completed first. Irate citizens have little patience for equipment breakdowns or workers being on vacations, but the Public Works Director needs to calm the situation down and try and find solutions for dozens of problems each week.
And while most of what I’ve described above is considered routine, there is always the unexpected. Floods, windstorms, parades, celebrations, and water lines that fail in the middle of the night in below zero weather are just a few of the things that make the Public Works Director one of the most versatile and valuable people in the city.
I was blessed to work with one of the best Public Works Directors in the country. My high school classmate Frank Scarcelli was the Public Works Director through most of my tenure in the City of Clarksburg and he was a marvel. Frank treated his employees with respect and was never afraid to pick up a shovel and work side by side with his men. He would never back away from a job and always had a smile on his face, no matter how bad the weather or how late in the evening. He managed his budget and kept a massive fleet of equipment running.
Frank passed away shortly before he was scheduled to retire and I don’t think there has been a sadder day in our city. I was so proud to have worked with Frank and to consider him a friend. As a tribute to his service to the city, the Public Works Garage was named in his honor. As I drive by the garage and see his name emblazoned on the wall, I realize that I was watching an Amazing professional do a job that few could do as well.