President's Message

A mixture of joy, sadness and resolve

Richard L. Ridings, P.E.
APWA President

It is with a mixture of joy, sadness and resolve that I write this message about our 2001 Congress and Exposition in the great City of Philadelphia.

Indeed, it was a joyous occasion for me to visit with the many friends I have made over the years. Renewing old friendships and vesting with professional colleagues are, after all, two of the greatest benefits of attending our annual conference.

I also enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm for Congress with the many members I met for the first time, whether it was during the general sessions, in meetings, or just simply walking through the halls of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. And I found it stimulating whenever I had the opportunity to stress the importance of attending the educational sessions and the exhibits at Congress, which will no doubt inspire a great deal of constructive thinking.

The sadness I feel, of course, is due to the tragic events that occurred on September 11, the third day of our Congress. My heart goes out to the thousands of victims of the terrorist attacks. I know that families of the victims have the deepest sympathies from all of us in the APWA family.

When we learned of the attacks that Tuesday morning, a number of members who live in the New York City and Washington, DC/Northern Virginia areas left the Pennsylvania Convention Center and returned to those areas to help with the rescue effort.

However, there were thousands of attendees who traveled to Philadelphia by air who were unable to leave the City. The Board of Directors, having met hourly with City and Convention Center staff to assess the situation, made the decision to move forward with the meeting agenda. I am grateful to the Convention facility staff for their continual updates and to Board members and the APWA Emergency Management PET members for their counsel-all of whom were involved in discussions and contingency planning.

But more importantly, I want to thank my many public works colleagues for your leadership and resolve. Certainly, as public works professionals we are used to facing challenges every day in service to our communities, but never more than on September 11 and the days thereafter. The public workers who immediately left the Convention Center to offer their services in New York City and at the Pentagon are but one example. Another fine example is that through the initiative of the Delaware Valley Chapter, freewill donations were solicited in the Convention Center for the families of the victims. Under the leadership of Len Bernstein and Ken Eyre, the Local Committee provided outstanding support for the 2001 Congress, and then stepped up in the most trying circumstances to do even more than was expected. True public works professionals.

Our members have been working around the clock to respond to this emergency. From participating in blood drives to restoring essential public services, you have risen to this extraordinary challenge. I'm proud of "all you all."

Vision and goals
I am excited for the challenge of being your president for 2001-2002. I look forward with great anticipation to my visits to various chapters, and to meeting as many of the members as possible. Collectively, we have a vision and goals for APWA. I pledge to you to do my best to attain those goals during my year as president.

Advocacy for public infrastructure is a top priority for me, and you will hear about the need for more investment during this year. Although our national priorities have shifted as a result of our world situation, the need for a strong infrastructure remains. I plan to share this message with people outside the APWA family. All of us must be stronger advocates for public works.

NOW IS THE TIME to sell bonds and rebuild our infrastructure. Investment in our local public works facilities will fuel growth and generate economic activity at a time when it is needed. As an example, for each one billion dollars spent in our nation on federal highways, 42,000 jobs are created. Think about public works construction projects in your community, and how moving those projects forward now will positively impact jobs and your local economy. Also, rates on general obligation bonds and revenue bonds are very competitive.

We need to take action now to encourage investing in America-through public works construction. This is not a new idea. The often-cited example of President Eisenhower signing the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the some $128 billion in investment over the following 30 years is a prime example of a "lessons learned" from our recent history.

Without a doubt, our infrastructure needs an infusion of financial support. According to the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN), over the next 20 years America's water and wastewater systems will need $23 billion annually more than current investment to meet national environmental and public health priorities. Over the next five years, $267 billion is needed to maintain (not improve, mind you) our current highway system, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. As you discuss the need to invest, check the APWA website for information and examples in all areas of public works.

I strongly support our efforts to strengthen our public policy advocacy efforts in Washington, and increase our visibility at the U.S. Capitol, and chapter activity in the states and provinces of Canada. Advocating for public works and infrastructure is one of our major priorities in our strategic plan. We are committed to working toward the goal of ensuring that governmental policy decisions and actions take into account and support the value and necessity of public infrastructure.

Through the direction of the Government Affairs Committee and the Board of Directors, and work of APWA committees, chapters and countless individual members, our advocacy voice will continue to grow at all levels. This past year we have provided excellent tools to members in all states and provinces to enable them to be better advocates at the state and provincial levels. It is up to all of us to put those tools to use. With support from our staff in our Washington office, we have all we need to make our voices heard.

I also believe more members are required so that we may fully embrace the opportunities that lie before us. We have hovered around 26,000 members for some time, but I believe there is potential for adding significantly more. The question is, how do we best do that? I put the challenge back to each of you to identify people you work with on a day-to-day basis who may not be APWA members. Approach them. Explain what APWA means to you. Ask them to join. My most precise calculations indicate that if every member will get only one new member we will double our membership. New, active members benefit us all with new ideas, keeping our chapters and organization alive and moving.

A third area I intend to emphasize during my presidency involves that of education. The concept of life-long education is gaining acceptance. Receiving on-the-job skills training has always been a given. But the idea of planning your own professional future, after formal education ceases, in order to meet your specific goals, is an idea that is gaining ground.

APWA, throughout its long history, has stepped to the forefront to meet the educational requirements of its membership. I have been an active member-not just a member-of APWA for more than 30 years, and APWA has been an extremely significant force in my educational development and growth. I always turned to APWA-and you as APWA members-for advice and informal education over the years. We must, and will, continue to foster this ongoing education.

During my year, I also intend to focus on the importance of relationships and of people remaining networked and connected on a professional level. The proper way we can improve our advocacy and education is through relationships. By networking with each other, particularly during our annual Congress, through our chapters, and through our APWA-InfoLink and infoNOW systems, we can rapidly advance our programs throughout the association.

We also need to focus on the relationships and our communication with our elected officials and the people we all serve. They need to know that health, safety, and lives depend on our vital public works facilities. We need to continue to inform people about the necessary and convenient things we do for them, and about the vital services we provide.

Of course, I can't accomplish all of these objectives alone. Fortunately, I have the opportunity of working with an exceptional board of directors, committee volunteers, and our headquarters staff which, I feel, is second to none. The board and staff have contributed enormously to the giant strides we have made in education, advocacy, professional development, coordination with other agencies, and in serving the individual member in order that we can better serve each of our home communities.

Public works officials are a hard-working lot, and proud of it. We build the roads, clean them, and maintain them. We collect the solid wastes and dispose of them. We develop sources of water, make it safe to drink, and clean up the wastewater before discharging it. We purchase, operate, and maintain today's sophisticated equipment. We deal with mayors, managers, city councils, commissioners, unions, civic groups, and countless others. We manage all sorts of operations-great and small. I know that the people in public works are the greatest folks on earth, and I am proud to be associated with all of you.

The public works professionals who came before us had a vision, and so do we. We are fortunate to be able to continue the APWA tradition of service to the public, and I ask each and every one of you for your help. Our own American Public Works Association and its value to you and your community is what we make it. Each of you can lend a hand as we increase in wisdom and in stature.