Caring for the guys in the trenches: Wm. Roger Buell

Editor's Note: This month's Member Profile features Wm. Roger Buell, P.E., Engineering Program Manager, Right-of-Way Management Section, Charlotte Department of Transportation, Charlotte, North Carolina; member of APWA's Utility and Public Right-of-Way (UPROW) Technical Committee; and member of APWA's Homeland Security Subcommittee and Smart Growth Subcommittee.

  Wm. Roger Buell

Tell us about your background: Over the past twenty years I've had quite a variety of learning experiences. When it comes to my formal education, I earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Michigan Tech University. However, during my stay at Michigan Tech, I interrupted my education with a three-year tour of West Germany, as it was called at the time, with the United States Army as a combat engineer.

After an honorable discharge and a successful tour of duty, I returned home, finished my education at MTU and graduated. Shortly after graduation I landed my first professional engineering position with a very rapidly growing suburb just outside of Detroit. With almost a decade of civil engineering work in my back pocket, I continued my educational career with a master's degree in civil engineering from Wayne State University. I continued to work for municipalities in the suburbs of Detroit and eventually in a suburb of Lansing. My present position is with the great City of Charlotte in North Carolina.

Favorite Book: The Bible has been a source of great strength and guidance for me throughout my life, although I found a book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, to be an additional source of practical ideas of enhancing my public works supportive leadership role. Those have been the two most significant readings that have helped me out.

Hobbies/Interests: Well, aside from spending almost all of my off-work time with my wife of eight years, Cathy, and our two wonderful children, Christopher and Caitlyn, I enjoy working on restoring a classic car. Although most Ford guys would call it a classic, my wife calls it a money pit. I guess it's just a car thing with me. We do enjoy a few weekend trips to the mountains and to the various attractions the region has to offer.

Role Model: Well, although my first engineering role models were in the form of the first two city engineers I had the opportunity of supporting, I have a life role model, other than my parents, of a gentleman I met while working for United Van Lines moving furniture. This guy taught me how to stop asking what to do next and to take charge of my job, and find out what is coming up next. It was a real life-changing moment for me. Because up to that time I was just sitting around waiting and saying, "What do you want me to do next? What do you want me to do next?" After that experience I became focused on my tasks and more active in what the outcome was going to be for both my career and my life. It was one of those "Ah ha!" moments in a person's life that just changes your outlook. He gave me that "Ah ha!" moment.

Career Accomplishments: That's an intriguing one. I consider my day-to-day work in public works, solving problems and coming up with preventive ideas as an accomplishment. However, I did have this one opportunity where I was chosen by a group of local municipal engineers to facilitate a very diverse group. This group was made up of city, county and regional stakeholders. We were charged with the development of a solution to address some oncoming federal regulations. Many of your readers may be aware of the one I'm speaking of. It's called the NPDES program, or for lack of abbreviation, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. I was in both a Phase I and a Phase II community, and I would consider being nominated to lead that group as probably my greatest accomplishment.

Awards Received: That's a tough one, Kevin. I really don't have any awards on my wall, although I feel my greatest award is being called "Dad." Probably the greatest work award that I ever got was a little note from a water service inspector who worked in the division that I was responsible for. He had thanked me for coming out and observing a water main repair on a cold winter day up north. He just wanted to let me know that he appreciated how much I cared for the guys in the trenches, unlike some other supervisors he had worked for. I still keep that note with me. It's a real source of inspiration and commitment for promoting the front-line guys and other public works workers.

I'm sure someday I may be able to cite an award that says "Employee of the Year" or "Public Works Official Accommodation," but I'm really not concentrating on those types of things or even look for awards like that. I'm too busy making sure that public works, works.

You've been a Mentor for the past two years in APWA's Emerging Leaders Program at our annual Congress. What has your experience been like with that program? I'm very supportive of that initiative by APWA of the Emerging Leaders program. To me it's been a very rewarding experience. I've had the opportunity to meet with individuals that are just coming up through the ranks of public works. Hopefully, it's given them an insight into what may lie ahead for them, depending on which path they take.

I've also learned some new perspectives. I feel it's very important for myself and my fellow senior leaders to remember what it's like not to know what you know now. The Emerging Leaders program has given me that perspective, that fresh pair of eyes on where I am and how I got to where I am. I've met individuals from Australia to California to the EPA through this program, and have really enjoyed it. I would also like to mention that I have taken an active role in continuing this type of mentor program even outside of APWA, and am currently mentoring an upcoming college engineering student from my alma mater. I think that really harks at the success of the APWA initiative, in that a great idea has many sometimes-unrelated branches.

What are some of the projects and activities of the UPROW Committee? The UPROW Committee has embarked on many significant contributions to the public works field, from educational presentations at the annual Congress, to articles published in the Reporter, to even publications reviews. There are currently three subcommittees of UPROW. It's a very diverse group of talented individuals who I feel are involved and very eager to contribute in some fashion to the betterment of our field. In the past we've worked on issues of right-of-way management, construction practices, and most notably the recent addition of One-Call Systems International, also known as OCSI, which has joined the ranks of our subcommittees, and we're looking forward to our continued relationship with them. Just a side note, though, we are always looking for new blood in the committees and subcommittees, so if there is anyone out there who would like to volunteer a few minutes each month or so, we would love to hear from them.

Tell us more about the City of Charlotte's Department of Transportation: I am pleased to say that the City of Charlotte's Department of Transportation offers a very unique opportunity for me. I have had the occasion to consider many ideas from my background. One of which was the development of a proactive, quality-based engineering perspective in public works. However, this initiative has had to be tempered with a balance in light of an environment or community that's striving to promote unhindered economic development. I am blessed to say that I have the chance to work with over 400 dedicated individuals ranging from front-line first responders on road maintenance and disaster mitigation to planners and engineers. Being one of the top 20 cities in the country with over 580,000 residents and over 2,000 miles of roads to oversee, maintain and secure, we really have our hands full.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? Being a member of APWA gives me kind of a sense of family, at least in a work-related sense. It's an opportunity to share common challenges and to get some unique perspectives from others in the field. I think it's given me the exposure to a toolbox of problem solvers. This group is comprised of not only fellow municipal individuals, but also the other public and private sector perspectives. And that's what really keeps bringing me back, is not only the commonalities but also the diversity that we have.