INTERNATIONAL IDEA EXCHANGE

Kansas City memories

Dr. Jiri Neuzil
Medical Veterinary Doctor
Owner, REMIT Ltd.
Sternberk, Czech Republic

Everything began in the year 2001. For the first time, two members of the Czech Republic Public Works Association (CZPWA) visited the United States and attended the APWA International Public Works Congress and Exposition in Philadelphia that September. Despite all the sad events of 9/11, a strong friendship and professional cooperation began between CZPWA, the Slovakia Public Works Association (SPWA), and APWA.

This friendly bond seems to grow every year. It consists of not only a formal cooperative agreement, but also informal friendship. During the last five years more than 10 APWA members have attended and visited the Czech and Slovak Republics. Members attended conference meetings and educational sessions, making presentations and sharing interesting topics and experiences.

Based on this mutual cooperation of public works organisations, 14 Czechs and three Slovaks attended the 2006 Congress in Kansas City. The trip was organised by our Czech and Slovak associations, with much support coming from APWA chapters (particularly the Kansas City Metro Chapter) and staff as well. Due to this help we were able to experience a wonderful week in Kansas City from September 8 to 14. The Czech and Slovak delegation consisted of Public Works Directors (referred to as Directors of Technical Services in the Czech Republic and Slovakia), engineers and company directors. This was the first visit for many of the delegates, and they were all impressed and amazed from their experience in the United States.

The long trip from Prague to Kansas City was quite uneventful, except for one lost suitcase that arrived two days later. Lesson: Always carry spare essentials such as underwear in your carry-on when flying. When we arrived in Kansas City we were welcomed by Doug Wesselschmidt, a former president of the Kansas City Metro Chapter. He transported us to the hotel and was very helpful throughout our stay.

The next day Doug's wife, Michelle, was our tour guide for the day in St. Joseph, Missouri. We had the opportunity to visit the Pony Express Museum, Jesse James's home, and the Stetson Hat Factory Outlet. We had a great time and also had the opportunity to play cowboys (we were all very familiar with cowboys through books and movies, but now it was all real). We met with the Public Works Director of St. Joseph, Mr. J. Bruce Woody, and visited the public works yard and the library.

On Sunday all of us attended the Congress Opening General Session and met our American "old friends" and APWA members, some of whom attended Congress in our country in 2004 and 2005 and our Spring General Meeting held in Hradec Kralove in June 2006.

Many of our delegates were surprised with the differences between the European Congress and the Congress on the other side of the ocean, such as the level of professionalism, the level of appreciation, and importance of the APWA organisation; and the warm welcome to members and the thanks to all in the profession of public works. We (the ones who understood English) enjoyed the speeches of Past President Bob Freudenthal and incoming President Bill Verkest. There are many differences in the organisational setup between APWA and the associations in Europe. The bottom line is that they both serve and represent the interests of the members.

CZPWA is a small organisation with approximately 1,000 members, and the setup of our organisation is different from that of APWA. For example, our president and members of the board are voted for a four-year term. Our technical services (or public works) are focused on waste management, green care (landscaping), streetlighting, winter maintenance, and road maintenance and repair (some years our conferences also include emergency management and fleet). This narrow field of focus means that our presentations and expositions are therefore much smaller than in North America.

The Sunday afternoon Get Acquainted Party was enjoyed by all. Most of us like music and have heard about the great jazz in Kansas City, but to be able to experience, in person, the great bands, steaks, barbeque and all the other great entertainment, fun and food was very much appreciated by all. The event was beyond our expectations.

Monday was a busy day with our presentation scheduled for 11:00 a.m. We presented "Privatization of Public Works in the Czech Republic Since 1990." We were very pleasantly surprised how interested the audience was and how many interesting questions were asked. It was great to see that cost of services, organisation and budgets are very important to organisations in North America and across the ocean. This presentation validated our concern that we are headed in the right direction.

Monday evening our group was invited to and attended the International Guests Reception at the beautifully restored President Hotel in Kansas City. It was a great opportunity to meet friends from all over the world, especially from New Zealand and Australia—members like Ross Vincent, Daryl J. Collins, Warren Roberts and many others. They discussed keeping up with beach and oceanfront maintenance and we discussed snow removal. We would like to thank our friends for hat souvenirs and the koala and kiwi toys. We also had the opportunity to make new friends from the Texas Chapter who invited us to attend next year's Congress in San Antonio. We toasted to our friendship with Texas tequila and the Czech Pilsner Urquell beer. By midnight we were able to communicate in all languages, English, Spanish, Czech and Slovak fluently.

Tuesday was a day predominantly spent at the exhibit hall. There was a lot to see: many companies, manufacturers, producers and dealers of road repair and maintenance equipment, as well as snow removal, fleet, and service-providing companies. Our interest and focus was to compare products made and available in North America with products and equipment made and available in Europe. We determined that on the average the latest technology is about the same on both continents. The truth is that in America everything is bigger and more rugged. We learned about some clever solutions which we will try to implement and use in our business.

Tuesday evening our delegation split up into three groups, and each group was sponsored for a chapter dinner. One group was sponsored by the New England Chapter, the second by the Texas Chapter and the third sponsored by both the Southern California and Sacramento Chapters. Although some of our non-English speaking delegates were concerned about not being able to understand and communicate, everybody had a great time and the U.S. hosts made them feel comfortable. All the Czech and Slovak delegates appreciated the hospitality that was extended to them.

On Wednesday, along with an exciting tour to the Harley-Davidson motorcycle facility, we looked forward to the Technical Tours. As everyone knows, Congress and theory are great, but we were ready to experience some practical tours. This happened when we visited the Olathe Municipal Service Center. We witnessed a perfect organisation of a public shuttle center and high-technology management system, and met people who were very proud of their job. Donald Seifert and Tom Speck showed us around the Municipal Service Center. At the end of our tour we visited a solid waste transfer station, something our Czech members are very familiar with. We could not have wished for a better tour.

On our way back to Europe, our delegation spent a couple of days in New York City. We visited the new Museum of Modern Art exposition, Empire State Building, Ground Zero, USS Intrepid aircraft carrier, and other tourist locations.

Once again we would like to thank and express our gratitude and appreciation for help and hospitality to our North American colleagues, APWA members and friendsnot only to longtime friends like Geoff Greenough, Dwayne Kalynchuk and George Crombie, but also to the many new friends that we made during our stay. Members of the Czech and Slovak delegations visiting the U.S. for the first time were very appreciative of the cordial and curious nature of the U.S. members. They all were very interested in the Czech and Slovak culture, our countries, and the European Union. There is nothing better than people meeting people!

We were also proud of the Czech-Americans that we met; for example, APWA members Monty Sedlak from Colorado and Donald Jakesch from Chicago. They didn't forget their roots.

During the meeting of the International Affairs Committee we confirmed that our cooperation with APWA will continue. We are looking forward to APWA members attending the CZPWA and SPWA General Meeting which will be held in October 2007. We would like to welcome our American friends to present their expertise and experience at our forum and visit both of our countries. We guarantee you will have a great time and experience!

Allow me to thank all our American friends who helped us with the organisation of this trip, especially Helena Allison, a Czech-American, longtime APWA member, Sacramento Chapter Past President and APWA/CZPWA/SPWA Partnership Task Force Chairperson, and a Willdan employee in Sacramento; Kaye Sullivan, APWA Deputy Executive Director; Shelby LaSalle, APWA Board member; and Diana Forbes, member of the APWA Meetings Department. Thanks to President Bill Verkest, President-Elect Larry Frevert, and Past Presidents Dwayne Kalynchuk, Tom Trice and Bob Freudenthal, all who we have met at formal and informal meetings. It was great, and we would like to welcome all of you to the Czech and Slovak Republics in 2007!

Dr. Jiri Neuzil is a member of the APWA/CZPWA/SPWA Task Force and can be reached at neuzil@mariuspedersen.cz.


APWA delegation attends AMMAC conference

Bob Kass
Public Works Director
City of Campbell, California
Chair, APWA International Affairs Committee

The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Villahermosa, Mexico was the site of this year's Mexican Municipalities Association (AMMAC) annual Public Works and Services Congress. With a "Clean Cities" theme, the conference emphasized environmental stewardship and sustainable development.

A six-person delegation from APWA attended the conference. Former APWA President Tom Trice participated in the inaugural ceremonies after which he delivered the opening keynote presentation on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Tom's presentation was extremely well received by the attendees, who were quite surprised to learn that local recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast in the United States were hampered by a number of bureaucratic and logistical difficulties quite similar to those faced in Mexico following its recent spate of similar natural disasters.

Other presentations by APWA members included:

  • An overview of "Smart Growth" as part of a panel discussion on sustainable development by Bob Kass of Campbell, California
  • "Citizen Participation" by Julio Fuentes of San Diego, California
  • "Recycled Water" by Tammy Qualls of RMC Consultants in San Jose, California
  • "Generation and Production of Biodiesel in the Urban Sector" by Jose Gamboa, Solid Waste Superintendent for the City of Santa Cruz, California

Both Julio Fuentes and Tammy Qualls received partial support for their participation in the Mexican Congress through their receipt of Jennings Randolph Fellowships, a grant coordinated by APWA's International Affairs Committee and administered by the Eisenhower Foundation. Ms. Qualls also received support from the APWA South Bay Chapter to attend this event.

One of the objectives of the APWA delegation in attending this year's event was to continue dialogue with AMMAC on partnership opportunities. In particular, there was significant discussion and interest among the Mexican attendees in APWA's various educational programs, including self-certification. Identifying these opportunities continues to be an important aspect of the APWA/AMMAC partnership work program. Members of the APWA delegation also actively marketed the upcoming 2007 Congress in San Antonio to both attendees and exhibitors with the help of a full-color Spanish-language flyer that was provided by APWA's marketing staff.

The APWA delegation took time out for a group photograph while visiting the Mayan archaeological site of Palenque. From left: Tom Trice, Teresa McWilliams, Tammy Qualls, Jose Gamboa, Julio Fuentes and Bob Kass

As part of the conference, attendees were treated to an evening "light and sound" show at the La Venta Archeological Park, located within the City of Villahermosa. The La Venta park features a number of massive Olmec stone sculptures displayed in a lush tropical setting. The Olmecs are considered one of the earliest Mesoamerican cultures, and the giant Olmec heads are one of the most recognizable artifacts of this ancient and mysterious culture.

On the Saturday following the conference, the APWA delegation had an opportunity to visit Palenque, a very important Mayan archeological site approximately three hours south of Villahermosa in the neighboring state of Chiapas. Situated dramatically against a backdrop of dense tropical rainforest, Palenque is one of the most impressive Mayan sites in Mexico, rivaling in scale and importance the more well-known site of Chichen Itza  in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Bob Kass can be reached at (408) 866-2150 or bobk@ci.campbell.ca.us.


AMMAC Trip Report

Tom Trice
Director of Public Works
Bloomfield Township, Michigan

Editor's Note: The following article, written by APWA Past President Tom Trice, serves as a companion piece to Bob Kass's article on page 28. Tom's text was originally sent to President Bill Verkest as a trip report, but also works very nicely as an article for this issue.

On November 15, 2006 I left Detroit at noon for Houston to meet with Bob Kass and then venture on to Villahermosa in the State of Tabasco, Mexico for the 2006 AMMAC Conference. Storms kept our plane in a holding pattern for over an hour at Houston while we circled the airport. After landing I was sent to three different gates before finding the one that was really going to Villahermosa. There I hooked up with Bob and Tammy Qualls. They noted that our plane was not there and was scheduled to leave about two hours late.

After a few hours we checked back and they told us the same thing. So we went to the bar, the only place that had food in that concourse to eat. Julio Fuentes and Jose Gamboa joined, as their plane was several hours late getting to Houston. Within 15 minutes they were calling for us to board the plane. We did and we were off into a sky filled with lightning. As we landed, three hours after takeoff, the flashes were clearly lighting up the inside of the plane. Fifteen hours after getting to the airport in Detroit we all checked into our hotel. This was just the beginning of an exciting adventure where we had to be flexible and ready to act at any time.

The Thursday before the conference started, Ruben Fernandez, the Executive Director from AMMAC, asked me to do a program on economic development. Through Bob we told him that the timeline to develop something like that was too short, but I would do the APWA Katrina program and tie that to redevelopment. They were excited about that.

On November 16, the first day of the conference, as we ate breakfast at 8:45 a.m. Ruben came in and asked if I could be the keynote speaker at 9:15. I had my program upstairs in my room which I quickly retrieved and started their conference at about 9:30 a.m.

I brought greetings from you [Bill Verkest] to the 150 people that were attending the conference before going into the Katrina presentation. Bob Kass interpreted the greetings from APWA. He then loaded my presentation onto the laptop and ran the program as Julio Fuentes interpreted from the stage area. It was a smash hit. After a couple of hours at the podium I began to step down from the stage and was met by their membership wanting pictures with me. Of course I obliged. Many went to the laptop and downloaded the program onto their flash drives. I have never had anything like this happen before to me.

As we left the conference room area we were greeted by a reporter from the local newspaper and, through Bob, I did an interview on the conference. The next day my mug was on two pages. They also did a follow-up on Sunday morning as well.

Bob completed the afternoon on Thursday as he did his program on the environment for the conference.

That evening I had a long conversation with the ICMA representative to Mexico, Octavio Chavez. He was very aware of APWA's certification programs and training Institutes. We talked about how APWA could help Mexico and its local governments by providing training modules that could be used to create best management practices for their local governments. APWA will send him all of our information on certification programs and the Institute criteria as well. This is something we need to keep in mind if we want to forward our relationship and provide real benefit to Mexico. AMMAC, ICMA and APWA can do some great things if we work together. I truly believe that having continuity with who we send to these meetings will make a big difference in how they react and respond to APWA.

For a guy that can only say about three words in Spanish I have been able to make some real inroads with these associations. This, thanks to Bob Kass, who is the greatest at identifying the key people and going after them. He also knows how to interpret the intent of answers to their questions. The ICMA representative speaks great English. We need to continue going to the AMMAC meeting and working with them if it is our intent to continue this international partnership. They really liked having us, the APWA members, there. If we can continue building on that, they will follow us and join.

Friday saw Julio, Tammy and Jose do different programs on environmental issues as well. APWA carried the conference for AMMAC and they really appreciated it.

Friday I got to tour the local area and see life in the rainforest area of banana and chocolate plantations. We saw some small Mayan ruins and then trekked 60 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. This was no resort area.

On Saturday all of the APWA members rented a van and headed south to the bigger Mayan ruins. This was a real adventure as we traveled the narrow two-lane, two-way traffic, no shoulder, Mexican super highways for the two-hour trip. I should point out that because there is no enforcement of speeds in the country, they put in randomly large speed bumps to slow the traffic. This becomes a game to the drivers as they all pass each other as they come to the bump so they can race off from the bump and get ahead of the other traffic. This would be a great area for traffic rage.

Construction was taking place in several areas as we went along the roadway. There were very few signs to let you know that there was one lane ahead and flagmen that need binoculars to see the other guy who was letting traffic through. The workmen wore sandals as they put down the asphalt and shoveled the gravel into place. Safety is not an issue for these folks. They could really use some APWA training.

We arrived at the ruins and joined the AMMAC staff as we climbed and viewed these magnificent structures for hours. We saw a waterfall that fell from the surrounding mountains. The road through the mountains did not have any guardrail or passing areas but that did not stop them from whizzing by. MUTCD need not apply. There was a shortcut through the mountains back to Villahermosa but we were advised not to take it because of the banditos.

This was one of the best and most exciting trips I have taken for APWA. Bill, thank you for this opportunity to represent APWA. I stand ready to go back whenever you need me to.

Tom Trice, APWA National President in 2004-05, is a current member of the Water Resources Management Technical Committee and the Nominating Committee. He can be reached at (248) 433-7732 or ttrice@bloomfieldtwp.org.