New president stresses importance of sharing knowledge, successes

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. The following are the answers contributed by new president, Judith Mueller.

First, a brief background on Mueller, the Public Works Director for the City of Charlottesville, Virginia. She began her career in public works in 1977 with the Public Utilities Department of the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia, transferring to the Public Works Department in 1981. She became the Public Works Director for the City of Charlottesville in 1985 and has held that position since that time.

Mueller did her undergraduate work at Cornell University, has an MBA from Old Dominion University, and has participated on numerous APWA committees over the years.

What do you hope to accomplish during your term as president?

During my year as president, I hope to work with the Board of Directors to continue to implement the strategies that we outlined in our last Strategic Plan. Specifically, I’ll work to make APWA recognized as the place to go for information about public works. I hope to expand our membership use of APWA services. I believe people are already seeing some of the value of the infoNOW communities, posting questions on our web site and getting fast answers and responses from all over the country. There’s an incredible exchange of information that’s going on there.

Everybody today needs all the help they can get in doing their jobs, and that’s where APWA has a role-helping folks do better what they do every day. There’s so much knowledge in our membership, and we really need to find ways to help folks share.

What are your thoughts regarding how chapters can be strengthened?

It’s a matter of learning from each other. We have to find more ways for chapters to be able to share their successes with each other. Chapters are continually looking for ways to enhance their membership. We need to find out what some chapters are doing that are successful and share those ideas with other chapters. Everybody is so busy now that it’s harder to find folks who are willing to take on a leadership role in chapters. Chapters are looking for ways to attract new members, attract younger professionals, and take folks early in their careers to be active in APWA.

Do you have any ideas for changes at APWA?

No, I’m not into fixing something that isn’t broken. One of the things I hope to do in my travels is to listen to the members and have them tell us what they want and need-how we can make APWA more valuable to them. What are the products and services and tools that folks need today to do their job and how can we best provide that to them?

What do you think is the single most important value or benefit that APWA provides to its members?

The ability to network with your peers.

Where do you see APWA going during your tenure?

I see us continuing to move in the direction that was outlined in the Strategic Plan. I don’t think one person’s year as president should steer us off that course. The course is set-our members told us what they wanted and the Board has taken action. My role is more ceremonial-going out and talking to folks. I have no personal agenda. The Board has set the agenda, and I’m just there to go out and talk about it.

If there were one major public works problem you could solve, which would it be?

Probably inadequate funding for the infrastructure. That impacts everybody. That’s why our presence in Washington is so important, to constantly keep that in front of the elected leaders.

Are there any other needs facing our profession today?

I believe what folks are struggling with is the ongoing unfunded mandates. I just don’t see an end to these. Stormwater is the big one we’re dealing with right now-we have the federal rule and now we’re waiting for the states, so people can see exactly what they’re going to need to do to implement it in their communities. It’s going to cost.

How have you observed the public works profession has changed in the past 20 years?

Involvement on the part of the public in our decision making. It’s no longer city engineers standing up and saying, “This is what we need to do.” The public wants a voice in it and they have a voice in it, and that’s made public works professionals have to have the additional skill sets of public speaking, negotiating, and dealing with competing factions in the community. It’s no longer just the technical facts that go into decision making. There are many other factors and factions-sensitivity to the environment, for example-out in the community that we didn’t have 20 years ago.