Each year, the American Public Works Association (APWA) compiles a list of the top leaders in public service and highlights their contributions to their constituents, organizations, and communities. One of the names on this year’s list was Paul Woodard, the Director of Public Works for the City of Janesville, Wisconsin.
We sat down with Paul to learn about the Janesville Public Works Department, the technology impacting his team, and the changes he’s implemented to improve the quality of life in Janesville. One of these notable changes was the acceleration of the city’s street repaving, which Paul helped to accelerate and creatively fund.
Here is what Paul Woodard had to say about the City of Janesville and some of his largest accomplishments as the city’s Director of Public Works.
GovDesignHub: Tell us a little about your role as the Director of Public Works. What does your average day look like? What has led you to this role?
Paul Woodard: The one thing I like about my job is that there is no average day. Many days I am in various meetings about 2 to 4 hours and there are lots of emails to go through in between and sometimes during meetings. Teammates from Public Works bring up various issues that we need to resolve and that I have to provide direction on.
Prior to starting my career in public service, I graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Civil Engineering. I worked for Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) for a couple of years, and then began my journey into the city side of Public Works. I worked as an Assistant Village Engineer for the Village of Glencoe, Illinois, a north shore suburb of Chicago. I then went to work for the City of Fitchburg as Director of Public Works/City Engineer.
Fitchburg, a suburb next to Madison, Wisconsin, had only been incorporated for seven years before I started there and my position was just a year old. After being in Fitchburg for 24 years, I accepted my current job as Director of Public Works for the City of Janesville. I have been in Janesville for over 4 years now.
GovDesignHub: What technology does your team use? How is it affecting job roles? How has this technology enhanced your workplace?
Paul Woodard: There is technology in everything we do in Public Works from the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems at our water and wastewater utility, Geographic Information System (GIS), Inframap for utility work, etc. It has made us more productive and responsive to our citizens.
We used to have a lot of manual documentation in the field which then needed to be input into a spreadsheet in the office. We’ve incorporated technology to share photos and project records between field staff and office staff. What used to be done by administrative staff or technicians is now done directly by employees.
GovDesignHub: Tell me about the Janesville street program. What were the steps to this project? What was the biggest challenge to overcome?
Paul Woodard: When I started with Janesville, we were repaving or reconstructing approximately six miles per year. With over 330 miles of road that worked out to a 55-year life cycle which isn’t realistic, let alone addressing any backlog. Over a two year period, we increased that to nine miles and now 12 miles which put us to about a 28-year life cycle which is more realistic. That doesn’t include projects that are federally funded or have other state funding which can add an additional mile or two per year to the program.
The first step was working with the council on how to fund the increased costs associated with a street program doubled in size. My predecessor had convinced them that we needed to do this increased level of improvements. Because of the tax levy limit restrictions imposed by the state, the increase in taxes needed to fund the improvements had to be approved by a referendum. That was defeated even though the residents were requesting we address the deteriorating conditions of the roads in the City.
We then presented some various alternatives to the council after the failed referendum. It was decided to fund half of the increased costs by additional borrowing (the borrowing does increase taxes, but it is exempt from levy limits.) The other half was funded by doubling the wheel tax per vehicle from $10 to $20.
The biggest challenge was ramping up for this size of program; we are taking more of a complete approach than what was done before. We look at all the underlying infrastructure, storm and sanitary sewers plus water main.
Not only are we doing more streets, we are also doing more underground utility work. While most streets aren’t being reconstructed, we look at everything in the street corridor. All defective sidewalks, curbs, and gutters are replaced and sidewalk ramps are brought up to current ADA standards. If there are lead services, those are replaced. Any defective storm or sanitary sewer is replaced or lined, defects in manholes and inlets are addressed, and water mains that meet the replacement criteria are replaced before the repaving or reconstructing is completed.
After the street is repaved, the sign crew comes in the following winter and replaces all street name sign plates with ones that meet current Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) standards and replace old posts and any other signs that are worn or not reflective. The following year, all hydrants are repainted if they weren’t replaced as part of the project.
The work effort on the expanded program along with the more complete approach involved significantly more staff resources. An additional engineering technician was brought on board to assist with the program.
GovDesignHub: What other challenges do you and your team face that could be solved by technology?
Paul Woodard: I think keeping residents that are impacted by the projects better informed as to what is going on with the projects. Our parks division could use a work order system to track work requests and it’s something we will be looking at next year. We just implemented a work order system for building maintenance which has gone well. We have a lack of technology in our City that sometimes makes our processes slow, time-consuming, and necessitates unnecessary steps. Technology (work order system, mobile workforce, etc.) would streamline these processes, making us more efficient and productive.
We also use technology in more mundane tasks. At our wastewater treatment plant, for example, we will be using a phosphorus analyzer to automatically increase or decrease the Ferric additions as needed to meet permit requirements. The SCADA programs are another aid in our utility we have but it will not solve all the issues we encounter.
GovDesignHub: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment in this role?
Paul Woodard: In my role, I’m like a band director. Keeping everyone on the same sheet of music so we are productive and working together as a team. When I accepted the position in Janesville, they had just brought Parks and Community Development (Planning and Building Inspection) under the Public Works umbrella. This transition has been smooth and everyone is working well together.
To learn about another APWA “Leader of the Year,” Chip Barrett of Westford, MA, click here.