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What a Congress!

Best Congress in years, many attendees say

R. Kevin Clark
Editor, APWA Reporter

Maybe it was because of all the hard work of the Heart of America Host Chapters. Or it could be that people just couldn't get enough of that great Kansas City barbecue. Perhaps it was due to the fact that this is the first time in 15 years that Congress was held in the same city as APWA's headquarters. Or, quite possibly, people felt a kind of catharsis at this year's conference, as it was during Congress last year that our world changed.

Whatever the reason, the attendees at this year's Congress had a terrific time, many saying it was the best Congress they had attended in years. The more than 150 educational sessions, 100,000-plus square feet of exhibit space, inspiring general session speakers, and fun social events contributed to a feeling of enthusiasm among the attendees that was truly contagious. Much of the credit goes to the Heart of America Host Chapters (Kansas City Metro, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa Chapters) and their numerous volunteers who provided professional support throughout the week.

What follows are highlights of the 2002 Best Show in Public Works, including everything from the presentation of special awards, to the signing of a historic Memorandum of Understanding, to the wearing of Eeyore and Tigger ears.

Mingle well, Mingle well
On Saturday, September 21, a number of Pre-Congress Workshops were held, along with meetings of APWA's Technical Committees. Summaries of several workshops are included in the "Educational Sessions at Congress" article in this issue of the Reporter, and the Technical Committee meetings will be covered in our "Technical Committee News" articles.

Congress officially began the following morning, starting with the sixth annual First Timers Meeting. This special meeting provides attendees the opportunity to learn the most productive methods of utilizing their time at their first Congress.

Speaking to a full house were Ann Burnett, Chair of APWA's Diversity Committee and the meeting's facilitator; Martin J. Manning, Director of Public Works, Clark County, Nevada, and new APWA President; Peter King, APWA Executive Director; Karen Susman, professional speaker and trainer with Karen Susman & Associates, Denver, Colorado; Larry Lux, President, Lux Advisors, Ltd, Plainfield, Illinois, and Board Liaison to the Diversity Committee; Vanessa Conrad, Manager of Administration, City & County of San Francisco, California; Dwayne Kalynchuk, General Manager-Planning & Engineering, City of St. Albert, Alberta, and new APWA President-Elect; John Benda, Manager of Maintenance & Traffic, Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, Downers Grove, Illinois; Jason Cosby, Assistant Director of Public Works, City of San Antonio, Texas, and 2002 Top Ten recipient; Robert Albee, Director, Telecommunications Engineering, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., Watertown, Massachusetts, and past APWA President; Patricia Kutt, APWA Director of Education; Chuck Madden, Manager-Marketing Services, George Butler Associaties, Inc., Lenexa, Kansas; and Kaye Sullivan, APWA Deputy Executive Director and Staff Liaison to the Diversity Committee.

President Manning opened up the meeting by stressing the value of attending Congress. "You should learn everything that you can, bring it home and try it out, and then make sure that you will be able to come back next year," he said. "This is a very good habit for people who are involved in public works. The business of public works is always a moving target, as you well know. Your continuing efforts to update your knowledge and your skills is something that you owe to yourself, to your career, and to your agencies."

Larry Lux focused on the importance of networking at the conference. "I personally guarantee that you will meet someone here today who will become a lifelong friend and mentor for you in the field of public works," he said. "It happens every year to everyone." Then, to the accompaniment of laughter, he followed up by saying, "Let's just hope that the person you meet is someone you like."

Karen Susman, who was a speaker at the Louisville Congress in 2000, conducted several fun networking exercises with the audience, such as having them share a favorite childhood memory with the person sitting next to them. Her singing the "APWA First Timers Networking Song Parody to the tune of Jingle Bells" was both funny and memorable, so much so that with her permission we've reprinted it below:

Dashing through the booths
Making contacts all the day
O're the floor you go
Snacking all the way.

Shake hands firm and smile
Making spirits bright
Oh what fun it is to
Introduce yourself - In fact
You'll follow up tonight

Oh! Mingle well, Mingle well, Mingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to network at APWA
Mingle well, Mingle well, Mingle all the day
Know what you want. Help others, too
To make this trade show pay.

(c)Karen Susman 2002.

For more information on Karen Susman & Associates, be sure to check out her new website at www.karensusman.com. Her guidebook, 102 Top Dog Networking Secrets, is available on the site.

Emerging Leaders: Class of 2002
"I would never have met a past president, the Executive Director, a Federal Highway Administration official, vendors, and other public works directors from all across the country if it had not been for the Scavenger Hunt that was part of the Emerging Leaders program this year," said Colene Carter, Recycling Coordinator, City of Independence, Missouri. "It was great."

Twenty Emerging Public Works Leaders and their matching Mentors enjoyed getting acquainted with each other, learning networking skills, discussing career development, and participating from the First Timers Meeting through to the end of the Annual Banquet. "Suggestions from the Class of 2002 will be used to make dynamic changes for next year's program," says Ann Daniels, APWA Director of Technical Services. Daniels continues, "Plan now to send someone from your staff or chapter."

We're not in Kansas anymore...
The Opening General Session in the Kansas City Convention Center's Great Hall began with a series of clips from "The Wizard of Oz" on the big screen. With smoke emitting from the stage, the Wicked Witch of the West suddenly appeared in the flesh, cackling loudly, and then faded into the smoke, whereupon President Richard Ridings was revealed under a brilliant rainbow.

"The author of this classic movie knew then what we now know, that faced with challenge—any challenge—we can find the power within ourselves to rise against it," Ridings said. "This movie draws many parallels to what we've been through in the last year. September 11 brought us to a place where we never thought we would be. All of us that shared this tragic day together last year in Philadelphia will be forever bonded."

Ridings continued by saying that sometimes it takes the threat of losing what we hold dear to realize what we have. "For Dorothy it was Kansas, for us it is our homeland and our freedom," he said. "We faced fear with courage, the unimaginable with intelligence, and our great loss we faced with heart—a global heart that has given us the strength to move forward with the renewal of our spirit."

Next, Ridings recognized the Local Committee, and the attendees heard words from Ed Wolf, Director of Public Works, Kansas City, Missouri, and Chair, Heart of America Host Chapters; Larry Frevert, Deputy Director of Public Works, Kansas City, Missouri, and APWA board member; Kay Barnes, Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri; Annabeth Surbaugh, Johnson County Commissioner; and Reverend Emmanuel Cleaver, Pastor of the St. James Methodist Church and immediate past Mayor of Kansas City.

Ridings then announced that the 2002 APWA Special Award of Merit would be presented to Peter Montalbano, First Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Sanitation, and that the APWA Presidential Leadership Award would be given to Joe Allbaugh, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). A third award, the Honorary Membership Award, was presented to Norman Mineta, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, in Washington, D.C. on October 1, as Mineta was unable to personally accept the award during Congress. (See also "Awards 2002" article in this issue.)

Montalbano had oversight responsibilities for the NYC Department of Sanitation on September 11, 2001 and was responsible for overseeing the Department's response to the attack on the World Trade Center, including the disposal of tons of debris from the Ground Zero site and at the Fresh Kills Landfill. "It is a credit to you, a credit to your profession, and a credit to APWA that the cleanup of the disaster was completed well ahead of schedule," Montalbano said to the attendees as he accepted the award. (See also "Awards 2002" article in this issue.)

Ridings then gave the Presidential Leadership Award to FEMA Director Allbaugh. Ridings acknowledged Allbaugh for his respect and understanding of the importance public works plays in emergency response and in ensuring safe communities. "I am deeply honored to receive this award and look forward to enhancing FEMA's formal relationship with the APWA," Allbaugh said. (See also "Awards 2002" article in this issue.)

Following Allbaugh's remarks, Ridings introduced the 2002-2003 Board of Directors to the attendees, and then turned the presidential gavel over to incoming President Martin J. Manning. "I have the utmost respect for what all of you do for our communities, chapters and APWA," Ridings told the audience. "You are my everyday heroes."

Manning discussed the five areas that he intends to emphasize during his presidency: growth in membership; government affairs and external relations; services and products to the membership; organizational development and communications; and financial management. He also reminded the Congressgoers about what they had to look forward to during Congress week. "It is our hope that your Congress experience provides you with the education sessions and the product information you need to help you excel in the service to your community," he said. "And this morning is just the beginning!"

After Manning's remarks, he introduced the keynote speaker for the Opening General Session, Homer Hickam. Hickam spoke about his childhood in the little town of Coalwood, West Virginia, leading to becoming an aerospace engineer with NASA. He spoke about his book, Rocket Boys, which was made into the 1999 film "October Sky." The book and movie are based on experiments on rocketry conducted by Hickam and his friends. During the period of excitement about Sputnik, Hickam and his friends were successful in gaining support from Coalwood's residents. The group won the science competition that awarded them an opportunity to attend college. "I wanted to be part of that light flying across the sky," he said.

A great storyteller, Hickam also talked about Coalwood's simple wisdom that has shown him how to have a happy and productive life. Among these are the rules his father had for his mine foremen that included, "Don't be afraid to tell a man he's no good. How's he ever going to get good if he doesn't know he's bad?" All in all, Hickam's speech was thought-provoking and inspiring and left all of us at the session with much to think about.

Following Hickam's speech, the attendees were treated to a performance of Kansas City's Marching Cobras Highstepping Band. This renowned drill and dance team is comprised of Boys and Girls Clubs' members who devote all their spare time to teamwork, practicing, and performing for audiences across the nation and internationally. Watching and listening to them perform was quite a treat, as they eventually led the attendees to the opening of the exhibit hall.

Immediately following the Opening General Session on the stage of the Great Hall, APWA and FEMA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishing a formal relationship between the two organizations. The MOU will provide the framework for increased awareness and understanding of the key role that public works professionals play in disaster mitigation, preparedness, and recovery.

"We are very excited about this opportunity to work collaboratively with FEMA and believe this agreement will improve our individual abilities to develop joint training programs and other resources to expand the emergency management and disaster recovery skills of our members," said Richard Ridings, who signed on behalf of APWA.

"Public works professionals provide the backbone of our country's infrastructure," said FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh, who signed for FEMA. "In this new world of terrorism and homeland security, our partnership with APWA is even more vital."

Kansas City's KCTV Channel 5 (CBS affiliate), KMBC Channel 9 (ABC affiliate) and WDAF Channel 4 (FOX affiliate), along with The Kansas City Star, covered the historic signing in the Great Hall.

Exhaust with a nice aroma
As mentioned earlier, the Marching Cobras led the attendees to the Exposition Opening. But let's back up a couple of days, because I'd like to share something with you regarding the exhibit floor from a slightly different perspective than has been covered before in this publication.

You know what's decidedly cool? Putting up your booth on the exhibit floor on Friday afternoon before Congress begins. Working on the Reporter booth in Louisville and Philadelphia, I was pretty much just focused on getting the booth erected and putting up my posters. But this year I decided to take a little extra time and watch some of the huge vehicles being moved into Halls ABCD of the Convention Center. Some of the biggest grinders, street sweepers and excavators I've ever seen pulled into their designated spots, and it was fun seeing them in action. Even the smell of the exhaust from those big suckers was inspiring somehow.

But just as enjoyable was seeing the folks erecting their smaller booths, and exchanging the occasional smile and knowing glance with them. After all, we all knew why we there—to talk with as many public works professionals as possible! A camaraderie developed between a number of us, certainly between the exhibitors in the booths around mine.

Of course, just as exciting was watching all the attendees walk around the exhibit floor and chat with the exhibitors. You can tell that some annual Congressgoers simply live to walk around the floor each year. Can't say as I blame them.

Incidentally, P.W. Paws, our nine-foot-tall mascot, made quite a splash on the exhibit floor this year. When Paws approaches people, they smile at him like they've just seen a good friend they haven't seen in years. And he's very friendly, giving out lots of hugs and pats on the back. Paws is available for rental, too—just call his good friend Jon Dilley of APWA's Marketing Department at 800-848-APWA or send an e-mail to jdilley@apwa.net.

A number of people at Congress asked us just who exactly is inside P.W. Paws. Actually, I'm afraid we can't tell you. The secret identity of Paws—like that of Superman, Batman and Spider-Man—can only be revealed to a chosen few.

Let's get educated
The 150-plus educational sessions at Congress provided plenty of proof that APWA has the finest educational program in the public works community. Topics ranged from water infrastructure security and managing emergency operations, to the benefits of public/private partnerships, to the history and practice of sewer root control. Although there remained an emphasis on technical sessions, there were also numerous personal and professional development sessions such as "Making Laughter Work for You: The Benefits of Humor in the Workplace"; "RESPECT—You Get It or You Don't"; and "Exploring Cultural Taboos Around the Globe: The Do's and Don'ts of Building Internal Relationships." Several sessions are highlighted in the "Educational Sessions at Congress" article in this issue of the APWA Reporter. To view the speakers' handouts from the sessions, go to www.apwa.net/Meetings/Congress/2002/Handouts/.

"What's the best thing that happened to you today?"
How often can you say that you've just seen one of the most amazing people you've ever seen in your life? That was the way a lot of the folks felt after seeing Monday's General Session speaker, Amanda Gore. An expert in physiotherapy, psychology, neurolinguistics, and ergonomics, Gore did her best to "get our heads and hearts reconnected," and in the most humorous way possible, too. Her ability to involve, energize and interact with the audience was amazing. Quite honestly, she was the talk of the Congress.

Gore's main points were to laugh more often, love, and continue the learning process. Just as important, she said, is staying away from "energy-suckers," people who "literally suck the energy out of you." Her perfect illustration of an energy-sucker is the character Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh books. After she put on a pair of Eeyore ears, she did a great characterization of the pessimistic donkey. Gore stressed that we should instead strive to be like Pooh's optimistic, energetic friend Tigger—whereupon she donned a set of Tigger ears to the crowd's amusement.

Ultimately, it was the manner in which Gore communicated her message to the audience that was so memorable. After all, it's not every day that you try to place a smiling face on the index finger of the guy sitting next to you. Or that he turns around and places a smiling face on your index finger. Or that we all act as if our smiling-faced index fingers are human beings. Or, finally, that we're supposed to walk around introducing our fingers to five other smiling-faced index finger "people." And in the midst of all this, we're supposed to say—excitedly—"Hi! What's the best thing that happened to you today?"

Of course, this kind of activity probably put some people way outside their comfort zone, but not that you could tell, as everyone seemed to have a great time. Gore concluded by having all the participants stand up, join hands, and sing (and swing) to the Monty Python song, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

Sounds like good advice to me.

Life is a gift
Wednesday's Closing General Session began with the introduction of what will become an APWA tradition—the passing of the Best Show in Public Works Flag from the Host Chapter to the following year's Host Chapter. In this case, Ed Wolf and Larry Frevert of the Heart of America Host Committee "passed the flag" to Ann Burnett, Frank Belock and Augie Chang, 2003 Congress co-chairs and members of the San Diego Chapter. "In so many ways 2002 was a benchmark Congress," said President Manning. "And now, the Best Show in Public Works flag will become a welcome and treasured symbol of all the hard work and innovations of each host chapter."

Following the passing of the flag, Manning introduced the featured speaker of the Closing Session, John Alston. An educator, psychologist, consultant and author of Story Power: Talking to Teens in Turbulent Times, Alston brought his message of character, decency and common sense to the attendees at the session. While some see life as a constant struggle, Alston treats each day as a gift. And according to Alston, many people are wasting that gift, even though they might not realize it.

According to Alston, each person needs a rudder and a compass to navigate the sea of life. The rudder, he said, is the choices we make, none of which is without consequences. The compass is composed of five philosophical points to remember:

  • Life is a gift. Don't trash it.
  • Of all things you possess, the greatest is your mind. Develop it.
  • There is a goal in this life: to develop your skills and talents and give them back to the world.
  • Become the most deep-thinking human being you can be.
  • Remember that there is no guarantee on the time you have in this world.
"You folks must've invented barbecue"
Wednesday evening was the final conference event when more than 700 attendees gathered at the Kansas City Marriott's Imperial/Colonial Ballroom for the Grand Banquet. Incoming President Manning, the 2002 Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year, former APWA presidents, and the Board of Directors were introduced to the attendees.

During dinner the audience was treated to some great jazz by Kansas City singer Angela Hagenbach and her band before it was time to hand out two awards. Marty Manning presented the first award to outgoing board member Clarence L. Wright in honor of his years of service on the Board of Directors. Wright, former Superintendent of the Detroit Building Authority in Detroit, Michigan, spent six years on the board as the Director-At-Large, Fleet & Facilities Management. In addition, he has served on the Facilities & Grounds Committee, Fleet Services Committee, Equipment Maintenance Council Task Force, and numerous other committees and task forces.

Following the award to Wright, Richard Ridings took the podium to present the Distinguished Service Award to Texas State Senator Florence Shapiro. "Senator Shapiro's longstanding support for maintaining and upgrading America's public infrastructure, her contributions to the passage of laws that create safe and efficient transportation options, and her overall commitment as a prominent public works leader, make her an overwhelming choice for this award," Ridings said.

"To receive your Distinguished Service Award is so humbling," Shapiro said as she addressed the audience. "By the very nature of your work and careers—developing the very best public infrastructure—everyone in this room is deserving of Distinguished Service Awards. Therefore, I consider this a group honor and share this award with you all. After all, you are—as I like to say—where the rubber meets the road, and you do the lion's share of the actual work that legislators make up." (See also "Awards 2002" article in this issue.)

In Manning's closing remarks, he thanked the Congressgoers for another successful and memorable conference. "Your participation in this year's outstanding educational programs, and your experience on the exhibit floor, will no doubt inspire a great deal of constructive thinking," he told the audience. "So while the event itself may be closing its doors, its impact will be around for some time. And, we know that the quality of life for those we serve will be better for it."

As for the food, drink, entertainment, and networking opportunities at the Banquet? They were all wonderful. I happened to sit at a table with the Australian contingent, a terrific bunch who kept me amused the entire evening. And sitting next to me was a nice fellow named Greg Huffman, Road Superintendent, Sylvania Township, Ohio, who mentioned which particular KC barbecue joints he went to while he was in town. At one point he looked at me and said, "You folks must've invented barbecue." Well, Greg, maybe not invented, but certainly perfected.

On to San Diego!
Start making plans now to join your fellow public works professionals in San Diego, California for next year's Congress, August 24-27, 2003. San Diego, the nation's seventh largest city, is a favorite convention destination, and the downtown area has evolved into an exciting urban center with new hotels and major shopping complexes. They even have an ocean there. Hey, that's as good as barbecue.