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President's Message

July 24, 2020

President's Message

Wow! What a past few months we have had. As I mentioned in my previous message, as Public Works professionals, we are doing and will continue to do the things we’ve always done, regardless of the circumstances. As I also stated, how we do things may look different during and after the pandemic. The new and creative ways we complete our tasks during the pandemic may get a slight adjustment with the additional demand for equity and the dire need for unity. Yes, we still attend to the matters we are addressing with wise practices in respect of COVID-19, but I believe we also must adopt new methods or means that go beyond COVID-19 habits, that focus on matters of the heart.  

As concerning as COVID-19 is for our communities, as well as the rest of the world, the matters that have jumped to the forefront of life in 2020, right along with the pandemic, are even more significant. Unlike the quick, unexpected arrival of COVID-19, the topics of equity and unity have been brewing for decades in this country and the explosive responses to the enduring indifference truly can’t be regarded as surprises. As much as I would like to, I don’t think we can exclude ourselves from the responsibility of ownership by claiming ignorance.

My parents both grew up in Minnesota and raised me and my sisters to treat everyone as we wanted to be treated and to honor our country. I’ve spent most of my life living in Minnesota. When I haven’t lived in Minnesota, I’ve lived in racially diverse communities. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve followed my parents’ teaching/training. And I’ve spent most of my time with others that live similarly, including most of you reading this. That’s what we are supposed to do, right?

While I truly believe that I’ve, together with you, walked the talk, both personally and professionally, I can’t pretend I haven’t seen the separation that is staring us in the face loud and clear today. I’ve noticed that most of my customers in Eagan, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or political party, have a high quality of life, while some others, both outside and inside of Eagan, don’t have the same opportunities or privileges, as some may call them. I’ve typically dismissed this as a result of wise leadership and great staff, for the positive aspects, and accordingly, been thankful for where I work and the people around me. On the negative side, I’ve stereotypically accepted these as consequences of poor choices. Then I’ve forgotten about the matter and put my nose back to the grindstone, possibly like many of you.

As I look back, I’ve also noticed that the supporters and critics of public improvements I’ve worked on have gotten “louder” or more “adamant” regarding why their opinion of the proposed improvements is the right one and any contrary thoughts are flat-out wrong, almost evil. It really became noticeable decades ago when two neighbors began screaming at each other at a public hearing about a proposed sidewalk. It’s grown today to the point where simple communications from a constituent to me are copied to elected officials at three levels of government just to ask a yes or no question. I haven’t changed the way I’ve done business, letting honesty be the best policy, but the acceptance of this practice appears to have lessened, at least when the honesty does not line up with the constituent’s desired outcome.

The issues of equity and a lack of unity are here, Minnesota. Smack in the middle of our communities. Honestly, right here in the good old Minnesota Chapter of APWA. So, what do we do, Public Works? Like we’ve been trained to do, we rise to the occasion.  

We strive to clearly demonstrate what we have practiced for decades, showing how Public Works protects and provides for ALL the people living and working in our communities. We tell our customers how we enhance the quality of life for ALL members of the communities we serve. We explain how we ensure costs are equitable for ALL the services we provide. We visually display how we protect ALL persons from biological diseases, natural disasters and man-made emergencies. We share our example of serving ALL persons with everyone we can reach. And we need to do it with the same passion that we do our jobs, every day, all year long.

Public Works professionals work together to complete a lot of our tasks and responsibilities. We always have. At this time, we need to help our communities, this country, appreciate these cooperative efforts. We need to let them see multiple communities united in efforts for the benefit of all, a greater good. We must show others how working together is better for everyone, especially when our differences have been the focus of the past and kept us from previous cooperative efforts. We want to demonstrate the importance of collaboration regardless of the differences there may be in the benefit received in each circumstance, knowing that continuing efforts will balance the benefits. We need to prove that the net effect of working together means success for all of us. We need to be UNITED and lead by our example.  

As an organization, the Minnesota Chapter of APWA needs to be a leader in the state on demonstrating equity and unity. We have already started down that path. The establishment of our Diversity Committee seven years ago has enabled outreach to existing minority and female workforces and college students, as well as high school students. Through these efforts, the Diversity Committee is striving to promote public works career opportunities for minorities and women. The MN2050 Committee has partnered with Growth and Justice, recognizing the correlation of equity and infrastructure in lower income neighborhoods. A relationship between the quality and condition of the infrastructure and the social economic standing of neighborhoods was acknowledged in the writing of the MN Equity Blueprint, assisted by the MN2050 Committee. On February 12, 2020, the Executive Committee committed to utilizing the MN Equity Blueprint in considering the chapter’s role in equity. Infrastructure and transportation are critical to the success of lower income neighborhoods achieving economic growth and development. APWA can play an important role in having these needs addressed through the additional consideration of equity in the forefront of planning by providing educational sessions at conferences. One is being planned for the next conference. 

We need to continue to prioritize equity in all our endeavors. We must educate each other on the value and hold each other accountable to the effort. We won’t always be able to satisfy each person’s perspective, but it is our duty to attempt to treat all fairly. We have to remind most and teach others that an equitable effort is always the best effort.

I’ve been a proud “member” of CONDAC (Coalition Of Northern Dakota Area Communities) for nearly two dozen consecutive years, with a few prior visits in the early ‘90s. One of my favorite things about my involvement in CONDAC, other than seeing all my peers that participate, is that we work together to make all our communities healthier, safer and all-around better than what they would be without our united energies. Not too many people, other than those that are “members,” know about CONDAC, but the difference that the resulting united efforts make to the communities we serve are significant. Those of us in APWA can tell similar stories about united endeavors. In addition to all the educational opportunities provided at conferences and technical tours, the networking invites us into relationships with other Public Works folks that may have already done what we are thinking about doing or would welcome the chance to partner or unite with us on an effort that will enhance our communities.  

We need to share success stories of united efforts. We must demonstrate the value that united goals provide. We won’t always be the first one addressed in united efforts, but we can still have our communities needs best addressed. We have to remind most and teach others that a united effort is always the best effort.

We ALL have a long journey ahead of us. UNITED as one community, we will SUCCEED.

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