Keeping up with the challenges: Les Henley

Editor's Note: The November issue's Member Profile features Les Henley, Deputy Director, Clark County Public Works Department, Clark County, Nevada; member of APWA's Accreditation Council; a Director of the Nevada Chapter's Executive Committee; and Vice-Chair of the Southern Nevada Branch.

How did you get involved in public works? Well, it feels almost like it was preordained, you might say. When I was in college pursuing an engineering degree, I was in what was called at that time the co-op program, where you worked a quarter for a participating agency and then went to school for a quarter, and alternated back and forth. When I was in that program the agencies that I worked for were the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the City of Knoxville, Tennessee. So from about the time I was a sophomore in college I've been involved in employment with government agencies.

In the mid-70s, as I was completing my bachelor's degree, the Federal Highway Administration offered fellowships which were intended for practicing engineers to go back to school and get a master's degree with a transportation engineering specialty. I applied for one and was one of the few students who were not practicing engineers at the time awarded one of these FHWA fellowships. The only condition on the fellowship was that following graduation you had to remain in employment with a government agency for three years. So after college I had an obligation to do that, and most of those three years I spent with the City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I've been with three government agencies since graduating from college, and just stayed in the public sector.

Education: I have a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Tennessee, and with the help of the fellowship I received a Master of Engineering degree, also from Tennessee. I went back to school about twenty years later and got a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Favorite Book: I would say anything by W.E.B. Griffin. He writes a lot of military and police and spy-type stuff, putting the characters in very interesting situations, sort of around the fringes of history. He includes very deep character development where you really feel like you get to know the characters. One of his series of military books has characters engaged in World War II in Argentina and in the Gobi Desert, sort of in the backwaters of the war that you never read about anywhere else. He writes a series of books where he stays with the same characters as they mature and as history passes.

Hobbies/Interests: Probably anything outdoors. Fishing, camping, pretty much anything outside.

Role Model: I would have to list two. From a professional sense I would say Jim Attebery, who was the longtime City Engineer with the City of Phoenix that I worked for and with, and I always admired Jim's professionalism. He was probably the single-most organized individual I've ever known.

From a personal standpoint I'd have to say my father, who passed away two years ago. He grew up in the Depression and World War II and was of that greatest generation. He came from a fairly meager country farm kind of background and put himself through school. He served his community for a number of years as a teacher and as a school principal, and after he retired from that as a county commissioner. And he did it all by himself with almost no help, other than the support of my mother.

Career Accomplishments: Well, we've been pretty successful with a lot of things here. They're not my accomplishments, they're really the team's accomplishments. We've done a lot of unique things here with Clark County Public Works. We managed to get our agency accredited three years ago and reaccredited this past August. We're still the only accredited agency in Nevada, and that was a major accomplishment for us. I was the accreditation manager for both these efforts.

Twice we have been successful in passing advisory ballot questions to increase local taxes and fees to fund transportation programs.

We were successful in completing the interim portion of the 53-mile Beltway around Las Vegas. As far as we know we're the only county that's building a freeway with no federal funding, and we managed to bring that project in within budget and on time.

This is a very challenging environment to work in with the resort corridor, the Las Vegas strip, and being one of the fastest-growing communities in the country. And really, every day you have the opportunity for serious professional accomplishments.

Tell us more about Clark County's Public Works Department: We're primarily a roadway construction, maintenance and operation agency, as well as a flood control construction, maintenance and operation agency. We don't do many of the things that many other public works departments do—we're pretty narrowly defined in terms of that. We have a management staff and a director who have all been with the county a long time. It's a pretty stable organization. It's a team that works very well together, and we've known each other a long time.

And we think we're pretty adept at keeping up with challenges that just don't exist in other communities. For example, we have roadways that have annual traffic growth figures of over forty percent. We have around five thousand new residents moving into our community every month, plus two hundred fifty thousand or so visitors every weekend. Right now we have about three hundred fifty million dollars in open, active construction contracts. And on top of all that, the jurisdiction that we serve is about eight thousand square miles, and stretches about one hundred fifty miles wide and two hundred miles long.

Tell us about the activities of APWA's Accreditation Council and your responsibilities with that group: Well, the Accreditation Council is sort of the Board of Directors for the accreditation effort that APWA sanctions. The council itself organizes and helps arrange training for persons with agencies that wish to become accredited. We just held two training sessions here in Clark County, training agency self-assessors and people to be accreditation site evaluators to go on these site visits.

The Accreditation Council itself reviews accreditation site visit results from these site teams and votes for or against or takes other action that we may feel as appropriate for an agency that seeks accreditation. At the recent Congress in Atlanta, the Accreditation Council voted to change the reaccreditation cycle from a three-year cycle to a four-year cycle because we have about twenty accredited agencies now, more than that who are in the pipeline, and we are trying to de-intensify the process a little bit as it grows. A number of members of the council also just recently participated in writing the Fifth Edition of the Management Practices Manual, which is now the guideline for accreditation.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? I think APWA is one of the most active professional societies, not just in the technical aspects but in social and community service aspects. Our local branch and chapter here are very active in a number of mentoring activities for young folks and a number of community service and charitable activities within the community. And from talking to people from other chapters I think the Nevada Chapter is very unique, because we have probably pretty close to a fifty-fifty split between public and private sector members. It isn't a lobbying activity or anything of that nature. It's just a very social group of like-minded people who enjoy spending time together.