Something for everyone: Sue Hann

Editor's Note: This month's Member Profile features Sue Hann, P.E., AICP, Deputy City Manager, City of Palm Bay, Florida; Member, APWA Leadership and Management Committee; and presenter, 2004 APWA Congress.

Tell us about your background: Although I had hoped to star in the Olympics by now, I started my engineering career in 1980 as Assistant City Engineer with the City of Melbourne, Florida. I also worked for the private sector in general civil and transportation engineering for about six years and then worked for Brevard County, Florida as the Engineering Department Manager and the Brevard Metropolitan Planning Organization Staff Director for about nine years. I started with the City of Palm Bay, Florida as Public Works Director about seven years ago and I'm now the Deputy City Manager for Palm Bay.

Education: I received a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Maryland, and a master's degree in business administration from Florida Institute of Technology.

Favorite Book: Well, I have some favorite authors. I like anything by Randy Wayne White or Carl Hiaasen. I enjoy murder mystery-type stories, and these are typically set in Florida. The best "management" type of book I've read recently is The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell. For public works professionals, it illustrates how you can have a tremendous impact on your community with a seemingly small action.

Hobbies/Interests: I'm an avid mountain biker, and so I like to ride my mountain bike in the mud, rain, sand, heat and any other adverse conditions. Despite Florida's relatively flat terrain, we have some very challenging trails. My husband and I have traveled to Tsali (North Carolina), Moab (Utah) and Methow Valley (Washington) to experience the "mountain" part of mountain biking. I also play racquetball at the state and national levels. And I'm fighting middle age with every ounce of enthusiasm that I can.

Where do you compete in racquetball? I've played in the U.S. Open Racquetball Tournament in Memphis. I played in the Women's National Masters Tournaments in Chicago, Baltimore, San Francisco and Orlando. To summarize my racquetball accomplishments, I would say that over the years I have built a tremendous amount of character (laughs).

Role Model: Well, that would have to be my dad, Joe Provost. He was Commissioner of Public Works for the Towns of Wallkill and Ramapo, New York, and also for Orange County, New York. He was very active in APWA and was the New York Metro Chapter President in the early 1980s. He got me interested in engineering when I was a kid. He used to take me driving around southeastern New York and northern New Jersey, and he would point out projects that he worked on like bridges and roads. "I worked on this, I surveyed this, I built that," that type of thing. That inspired me to pursue a career in engineering, to see the results of your work out in the field.

When I became Public Works Director in Palm Bay, my dad absolutely insisted I join APWA, and that turned out to be a really good thing for me.

Did he give you any reasons at the time why you should join? Well, I think it had to do with him getting a certain number of coffee cups or something (laughs). No, I'm just kidding. He was active in the New York/New Jersey area, and he just thought it was a great organization for the public works profession and always encouraged me to join. I'd been active in other professional societies that were more technically oriented and more narrowly focused. Since I was moving into the public works field and into management, APWA seemed like the perfect fit.

Career Accomplishments: In general, over the years I've faced many public works challenges. During my first two weeks of work in Palm Bay, I found myself on TV, hip deep in water, explaining a major flooding problem. Fortunately, through the support of City Council, city staff and grant agencies, I've been able to pull together the resources necessary to address those challenges and make the community better for our citizens.

Over the last several years, we have resolved some major longstanding drainage problems, paved hundreds of miles of roads and substantially enhanced our parks facilities. I work extensively with our city's Grants Coordinator, who has brought in substantial resources for public works projects. One example is the city's new Lagoon House, an environmental learning center on the bluff above the Indian River Lagoon. The $1 million-plus project was funded almost entirely through grants and will be the focal point of our Bayfront Community Redevelopment District. Another example is an award-winning stormwater project that relieved flooding while providing a beautiful neighborhood park. Again, the project was funded substantially through grants for both stormwater and recreation amenities.

I've also been interested in transportation policy for many years. As the Staff Director for the Brevard Metropolitan Planning Organization, I was able to work with my counterparts throughout the state to develop transportation policy in Florida.

I'm extremely proud of the work we've done both in Palm Bay and throughout Brevard County to improve bicycle, pedestrian and trail facilities. My husband, Murray, is also a strong trails advocate and he has worked many hours to bring trail enhancements to our community.

I'm very fortunate to have such a supportive spouse, who not only encourages me, but also works with me on community projects. At the recent National Civic League All-America City competition (in which Palm Bay has been a finalist for two consecutive years), Murray graciously participated in a dog suit, as "Sparky" the mascot to the Palm Bay's Fire Department.

I've also had the opportunity to teach Transportation Engineering at the Florida Institute of Technology. I really enjoy teaching and I was later able to hire some of my students, who have turned out to be outstanding contributors.

Tell us more about the City of Palm Bay: Well, we have a population of about ninety thousand. The city is about seventy square miles here on the east coast of sunny Florida, about fifty miles south of the Kennedy Space Center. Palm Bay is a growing, family-oriented community that is affordable with great value for your investment. Palm Bay is also a great place to work. We have a progressive City Council and innovative City Manager, with a team of dedicated professionals on staff. I'm fortunate to be able to work on interesting projects like a municipal paintball park and a municipal charter school.

What activities have you been involved in with the Leadership and Management Committee? We've been working on the Core Competencies for Public Works Leaders. We're wrapping that activity up and moving into discussions of Core Management Competencies. That's what's upcoming in the next year or so. I think we're looking forward to expanding the use of the Core Competencies and getting that information out to the membership through Congress presentations, articles in the Reporter, and other publications.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? Well, I like it on so many different levels. I think that APWA provides tremendous services to the membership on such an array of topics. What I mean by that is, if I have a question about fleet, there's plenty of info; if I have a management problem, there's plenty of info. Even with the wide variety of topics that public works encompasses, APWA has something for everyone. I find that amazing.

APWA also addresses many different levels of a public works organization. So if you're a crew leader, there's something for you. And if you're a public works director, there's something for you, too. So it's a tremendously diverse organization that successfully serves such a wide variety of members, and that's a major accomplishment.

I also like it on a personal level in that the people I work with on APWA staff are just outstanding. They're professional, they're on top of their responsibilities, and they're just great to work with. I've also enjoyed working with other members of the Leadership and Management Committee and the Public Works Institute Task Force. It's been a great personal growth experience for me to get to know these folks and work with them.

Just out of curiosity, did you get any comments about that picture of you on the mechanical surfboard (June issue, p. 13)? Just from the folks at my office (laughs). Oh, and my dad, too. He called and said "What is that?!" I always wanted to be featured in a magazine for my athletic accomplishments—I guess APWA Reporter is just as good as Sports Illustrated!