Accreditation, lessons learned in Miami Beach

Robert T. Halfhill
Assistant Public Works Director
City of Miami Beach, Florida

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 40 agencies, making a current total of 42, have joined the ranks, with 40 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 sixth 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/.

Accreditation has become a buzzword in the Miami Beach Public Works Department. Involvement became a status symbol as people began to realize and appreciate the benefits of being a nationally-accredited public works department.

We started on the odyssey of self-assessment in late 2004 with a few stumbles and backsteps, but finally got on track. Installation of an Infrastructure Management System/GIS and eight hurricanes affected our progress. We participated in our Site Visit by the Accreditation Team on April 15-18 and are now accredited.

  Yellow folders were everywhere.

Completing the self-assessment required a workable system. During the review and routing we packaged our developing practices in yellow document folders so they were readily identifiable as Accreditation Items and did not linger on desktops and in briefcases. During Ann Daniels' visits we planted these yellow document folders all over the office to give the impression of a work frenzy!

Our process flow took some time to develop and refine. The process flow evolved into practices being developed at the Division level through committee action. Once finalized, the practice was submitted to the Accreditation Manager for review and editing. This sometimes resulted in a great deal of files being passed back and forth. The practices then endured two proofreadings prior to being submitted to the Public Works Director for review and approval. Once approved, a copy of the practice was returned to the Division, the original was filed in the project file, the APWA Tracking Software was updated, and our in-house Accreditation Report Card was updated. We kept a working copy of the tracking software residing on a common network drive. This was used for generating completed practices. A number of copies of the tracking software exist under various file names because only one user at a time could be on the program. A master copy of the tracking software is resident in a private directory that had limited access.

  Civil engineers discuss accreditation procedures.

A key intended outcome of this process was the development of manuals and written standard operating procedures. Last summer our City Engineer, Fernando Vazquez, immersed himself into the process of writing a Public Works Manual. We have not seen much of him since although there have been sighting reports. He surfaced in early April with an invaluable reference tool.

John Kranick, Streets and Streetlighting Superintendent, completed a similar project for the Operations Division by compiling all of the policies, SOPs and, in many cases, passing down knowledge of how streets are maintained into a comprehensive practice manual. The results were so good that Michael Alvarez, Assistant Public Works Director for Operations, expanded the project to include Water, Sewer and Stormwater. Some of our long-term employees have commented that these are the first "how to" reference books they have ever seen.

The self-assessment process has brought the Department together in many ways. The Miami Beach Public Works Department has more than 450 employees working in seven cost centers. The process has developed some uncommon partnerships within the Department. The Transportation Division has found itself interacting with Sanitation and Utilities working in concert with Property Management.

Fred Beckmann, Miami Beach Public Works Director, signs the 391st and final self-assessment practice.

Those first nine chapters are killers. It involved getting other departments, agencies or offices involved in our process. Fortunately, we have good people in Miami Beach and have recruited assistance from several different departments to assist in validating the practices. We have made these folks honorary Public Works team members and they joined us in the recognition upon successfully being accredited. Their participation exemplifies our slogan, "One Team One City."

Sanitation was our first Division to complete the self-assessment process. They completed 59 practices in Chapters 19-22. The effort required extensive interaction with Miami-Dade County Public Works which supervises the landfill operations and recycling. Once the Super Bowl was over and our work schedules returned to a semblance of order, we had a super barbecue to celebrate their accomplishment.

There have been some funny moments as we temporarily went in the wrong direction. At the beginning of the self-assessment process one of our Divisions turned in over twenty completed practices. They were stored on the file server for ready access by the review team. Unfortunately, they had changed the practice statements and descriptions to match their organization and then saved the practices in PDF format which prevented any editing. We experienced many mistakes and wrong turns, but fortunately we learned from them. At meetings we shared our experiences and walked away better organized.

Accreditation, it's a good thing. But do not approach it halfway. Once you begin you have to watch it.

  • It has a habit of sneaking up and biting you.
  • It requires the efforts of everyone in your organization.
  • It requires the efforts of anyone else you can recruit.
  • It requires constant reenergizing.
  • It requires selling to others.
  • It requires focus.
  • It requires stamina.

To be an accredited organization is a pride thing. It symbolizes that you have been tested and found deserving.

Robert Halfhill can be reached at (305) 673-7000 or rhalfhill@miamibeachfl.gov.