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President's Message

December 18, 2020

President's Message

By Russ Matthys, APWA-MN Chapter President

Woo! Excitement and relief. These are the two feelings being expressed about the deployment of the COVID vaccine. While I share these feelings for the same reason, I also have these same feelings about the end of my term as chapter president. Excitement and relief. Woo!

These are challenging times for all of us, but exciting times, as well. Especially for the Minnesota Chapter. One of the more inspiring aspects for me this past year has been observing the energy, passion, and creativity that flows out of the members of this chapter. The work product of this chapter comes out of its committees. The efforts that are being generated by our committee members are of the highest quality and for the benefit of all of us. Their impacts are limitless. The future of Public Works is bright, and Minnesota is a better place because of our collective endeavors. Thank you for helping me see this over the past year.

I’m truly excited about the ongoing efforts of all the chapter’s committees, regardless of the curve ball they were each thrown by COVID-19 this year. While I could have highlighted the efforts of each of the committees, I’ll call out a few and their pursuits that are representative of the work of all our committees.  

The Public Awareness Committee continued its passion to achieve some of the main goals of this chapter, including the public works exhibit at the MN Science Museum and the STEM/Student outreach. Conversations continue with the museum staff, who continue to strongly support our efforts even during the museum closures, on the implementation of displays ranging from informational plaques to outdoor demonstrations to a full 4,000 sq. ft. museum exhibit. STEM events, the cornerstone of this committee, were transformed from live classroom presentations to a virtual Q&A and videos with student activities and introductions to public works professionals. Both committee member efforts will significantly grow our public outreach and enhance the perceived value of public works in Minnesota.

The flexibility and insightfulness of the Conference Planning Committee was put to the test this year with the canceling of both conferences due to COVID-19. With their “can do” attitude, the committee members coordinated online sessions this fall to ensure the membership was having its training needs met, including ensuring we were made aware of others’ responses to the pandemic. The virtual conference sessions were successful as they further enhanced the value of our members and public works.

The Raise Our Grade (ROG) subcommittee of MN2050 spent much of this year with planned activities in a holding pattern, primarily outreach with elected officials, as access to these officials were limited. None the less, the ROG members made noteworthy advances in developing promising partnerships with Minnesota building and construction trades associations, celebrated a signed public works bonding bill this fall, and recognized the productivity of utilizing virtual platforms. Upcoming member efforts include reaching out to new representatives and senators with an invitation to Infrastructure 101, an introduction to public works assets. This along with the growth of statewide alliances of chambers of commerce will develop new champions for public works in the future.

A celebration may be just what the doctor ordered for our membership and thanks to the revamped History Committee, that is what we will get in 2021 as the chapter celebrates its 75th anniversary. With the guidance of members, both old and new, look for invitations later this year to celebrate our chapter’s successes, past, present and future. 

For such a time as this…As many of us have discussed and as I’ve indicated in my previous messages, this has definitely been a year of change. The simple change to a new decade was enough for me, but we didn’t stop there. We continued with a pandemic, although uncommon, not a test we had not experienced and planned for previously. Unfortunately, the response this pandemic demanded was unlike anything we had seen before and beyond many of our plans. Added to that was the detonation of the long-festering topic of equity, right in the heart of our own home state. The reactions in the protests were unlike anything most of us Minnesotans have ever experienced, and the aftermath continues. I met this morning to discuss preparations for a third protest about a local matter. And with the effects of the pandemic growing ever more serious and our endurance waning, one of the more divisive national elections, and don’t forget about the post-election drama, was added to the mix. Are you serious?!?! Enough already! Too much!

But here we are. And here we stand. Many outside of our circle are asking why. Why now? Why here? Why me? But inside our circle, inside Public Works, we accept the change and all its associated baggage that has been cast upon us. We look beyond the questions and provide the answers to how to address the change. We don’t do it alone, as we have each other to lean upon, to encourage and to hold accountable. We know that a united effort is always the best effort.

I believe that each of us has been called to a specific purpose at a specific place and time. The purpose may be modified as the years go by and may even be replaced by new ones, but for each period in our lives, we have at least one call that beckons us. For most of us reading this, that call for right now is Public Works in our communities.  

You are in the right place, in the right vocation for the day in which we currently find ourselves. Stand strong in this place. Our communities need us. They need our fortitude to do the right things and to be an example of how they can sustain through these challenges. They need us to continue to advance the quality of life for all that we serve.

This year, we lost three excellent examples of members that answered that call and advanced the quality of life of all those they served in doing so. Gratefully, many of us benefitted directly from their service and this chapter has been abundantly blessed by their collective efforts. Gary Brown, Jay Hartman, and Steve Klein were all long-time members of this chapter, who stood strong for the communities they served and public works. They taught us, they encouraged us, they held us accountable. Each one was a friend. Please join me in honoring their memories by serving this chapter as they chose to do.   

As I prepare to end my term, I am excited about our future. I fully expect the continued success of the Minnesota Chapter of APWA, for I am certain of the extraordinary results produced by your active participation as a member, especially when combined with the efforts of one another. I am also relieved. Not so much that I made it through this year as president without screwing up anything too bad, but I’m relieved to know that we have each other. Regardless of future challenges, we will still do the things we have always done. All united, we will succeed. For, we are Public Works.

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