Development of agency accreditation at APWA

Dwayne Kalynchuk
General Manager
CRD Environmental Services
Victoria, British Columbia
APWA Past President

December 15, 1997 was a historic day for APWA's accreditation program. On that day the City of Greeley, CO and the Village of Schaumburg, IL became the first two accredited agencies in North America. In the past ten years, an additional 37 agencies, making a current total of 39, have joined the ranks, with 37 in the United States and two in Canadian provinces.

Throughout 2007, accredited agencies, their staff members, evaluators, and elected officials will be sharing their experiences with the program. The third article in the series is presented below. For more information about the program, contact Ann Daniels at adaniels@apwa.net or (816) 595-5223, or visit the website at www.apwa.net/About/Accreditation/.

While the accreditation program is officially 10 years old this year, the idea actually stemmed from a meeting in 1983 of 33 public works managers at the Northwest Conference in Chicago. This group identified the need for management practices for public services, which could potentially lead to a public works accreditation program.

An advisory committee was formed consisting of Kenneth Haag, Bob Pryzby, Max Whitman, and Bob Miller as chair. Interestingly enough, three of the original committee members became national presidents of APWA—Haag, Whitman and Miller.

The Public Works Institute, which preceded the Technical Committees, was responsible to develop the Public Works Management Practices Manual, with 12 public works agencies participating in validation studies in early 1991. The first edition of the manual was published in August 1991 under the guidance of Rita Knorr from the APWA staff.

Immediately upon publishing the first edition, changes were being considered for a future second edition. It was at this point, due to the overwhelming acceptance of the practices, that it was decided that a Canadian member should be added to the committee.

Therefore, in early 1992, I got involved in the project. Other changes had occurred in the committee with Bill Cook from Snohomish County, Washington; Tom Eggum from St. Paul, Minnesota; and Mike Kashiwagi from Elk Grove, California. Not only was there a change in the committee, but there was also a staff turnover as Rita had left APWA to pursue her career in New York with the American Society of Engineers. Fortunately for APWA, a long-time member from California decided to move from public service to take a job with APWA, Dennis Ross.

APWA, in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), joined forces to determine what constraints existed which would limit the effectiveness of public works agencies. In particular, the focus was on legislative, administrative or technical impediments which limited the ability to improve management practices in public agencies.

The assessment team tours the facilities at Greeley, Colorado. From left: Bill Cook, Dennis Ross, Dwayne Kalynchuk, Mike Kashiwagi, Steve Bagley and Bill Sterling.

To achieve this, 12 public works agencies across the United States were visited by assessment teams consisting of members of staff and the Management Practices Advisory Committee, along with representatives of NAPA.

I was fortunate to head up the team which visited St. Paul, Minnesota; Foster City, California; and Los Angeles County, California. These were agencies that were underway with self assessment, a process developed to evaluate agency practices to the Public Works Management Practices Manual.

Certainly, the visit to LA County was memorable. It was an opportunity to see an extremely large public works operation being led by an inspirational leader, Hildo Hernandez. His dedication, style and leadership were evident in the organization. Hildo has been an active member of APWA and continues to contribute his leadership skills to our association long after his retirement from employment in the public service.

During the development of the second edition of the manual, the committee, with Dennis's assistance, developed a framework to take the project to its next level, agency accreditation. As part of our task as committee members, we attended the Congress in Dallas in 1995 to discuss this key issue with the various Technical Committees that were our key contributors for updating the practices. While the committees strongly supported and endorsed the management practices, there were strong reservations to accreditation. I do recall attending a Water Resources Committee meeting where I was to give an update on the development of the accreditation plan. I was strongly challenged with the concerns that public works agencies, which had undergone self assessment, would feel compelled to move to accreditation.

Dwayne Kalynchuk (left) interviews George Mancilla, former Traffic Division Superintendent with the City of Greeley.

Regardless of the concerns, strong leadership, such as demonstrated by former Executive Director Bill Bertera, visualized a future where accreditation and certification were the future of APWA. The development of the program continued to the point where the first accreditation assessment was scheduled for Greeley, Colorado, in August 1997. Bill Sterling, then-Public Works Director in Greeley, did an excellent job preparing his agency for the review. Our assessment team, made up of members of the Management Committee, spent three days reviewing documentation, interviewing staff and touring the facilities to determine if accreditation was warranted based on the ranking system developed by the committee.

Greeley passed with flying colours and became the first public works agency to be accredited by APWA. This was the start to what today is a very successful APWA program under the leadership of Ann Daniels, which provides a measuring stick for agencies to illustrate their professionalism to their ratepayers.

While accreditation is not for all agencies, the Management Practices Manual, which is now in its fifth edition, continues to be a successful tool used by many.

Also, over the last two years, certification has become a new focus for the association, with additional programs being added each year.

With education continuing to be the main focus of our association, agency accreditation and member certification provide a key component of our education blueprint for the future.

Dwayne Kalynchuk was the APWA National President in 2003-4. He is a current member of the Education and Nominating Committees and a former member of the Finance, International Affairs, and Exposition Advisory Committees. He can be reached at (250) 360-3092 or dkalynchuk@crd.bc.ca.