Public Works: Always There

by Gary Davis
Farnsworth Group, Inc.

How we depend on public works professionals in our daily lives…

As unsung heroes, municipal public works professionals make a significant contribution to our daily lives. Having just celebrated National Public Works Week from May 15-21, it seems appropriate to continue promoting their efforts and the positive impact they have on our communities. The theme for this year’s celebration focused on the pervasiveness of public works through the statement “Public Works Always There.” The message for us is how much we rely on public works, and the fact that the men and women of this profession are always there—always ready to serve their community.

The Heartbeat of Any City
Many of us are unaware of the work involved in this profession, as most of it goes on behind the scenes. But let them stop work and we would soon see the impact: uncollected garbage, no water from the faucet, failing roadways and flooded streets. The American Public Works Association (APWA) suggests that public works is the heartbeat of any city—developing and maintaining buildings, roads, water systems, waste handling and administration. Public works professionals will tell you they help solve some of the toughest problems faced by our communities, the country and the world on a daily basis… with no easy answers.

When it comes to public works, one size does not fit all, so defining it becomes problematic. It has a multi-faceted, ever-evolving nature, but APWA attempts to define public works as a “combination of physical assets, management practices, policies and personnel necessary for government to provide and sustain structures and services essential to the welfare and acceptable quality of life for its citizens.” Whether a community has a population of 250 or 2,500,000, we depend on the public works staff to get the job done.

Locally, Peoria Public Works Director Mike Rogers and his staff have a stated purpose, “dedicated to improving the quality of the City’s infrastructure through best management practices and providing high levels of customer service to businesses, residents and visitors alike.” That’s a tall order with the limited budgets of today’s economic climate, but as we look around us, we can see they are working diligently to meet their goals. From simple pothole patching to complex issues like the combined sewer overflow project, not only are Peoria’s public works staff meeting these challenges, they are doing it economically—and with environmentally friendly solutions. These managers, engineers, operators, laborers and others help keep the city running, and they should be applauded for their efforts.

Hard Work in Small Communities
The cities of Pekin, East Peoria, Washington, Eureka and others in the area also have teams of public works professionals to keep their operations running smoothly. Their needs are met daily by visionary, value-driven and hard-working men and women who do their jobs in the best interests of their communities—and should also be commended for their work.

Smaller towns and villages have no fewer challenges, but tend to have fewer staff resources to help them accomplish their tasks. Every small community is unique, but their street, water, sewer and other public works issues are fairly similar. They have active, hard-working elected officials and dedicated public works professionals who are passionate about their towns and villages, and work diligently to meet the needs of their residents.

One local example is Mark Aeschleman, Public Works Superintendent in the Village of Roanoke. With just three full-time employees, he has a small staff, but they maintain all of the public works facilities and more. In many large communities, the public works director serves primarily as an administrator, but in Mark’s case—like many other small-town public works departments—he not only serves administratively, he rolls up his sleeves and performs many other functions. These tasks can include running the water plant, maintaining streets, repairing leaks, cleaning up brush, mowing grass, maintaining equipment, responding to resident’s concerns, overseeing the wastewater plant, attending Village Board meetings and more. As with many public works professionals, the job is nearly a 24/7 occupation, and Mark and his staff serve their village unselfishly and with passion.

Year-Round Gratitude
Public works professionals consistently provide our communities with services essential to the welfare and quality of life for residents on a daily basis. They deserve to be recognized for this unwavering commitment on more than just one week of the year. So, if you get the opportunity, thank a public works employee for their dedicated service to improve our lives and make our communities better places to live. iBi

Gary Davis is Group Leader, Municipal Engineering for Farnsworth Group. Email him at