Two Leaders, Two Different Communities – A Shared Passion for Public Works
Stronger Together – 2021 National Public Works Week
The 2021 National Public Works Week theme is “Stronger Together,” specifically diving into the role public works plays in creating great places to live. McGill sat down with two public works directors to learn more about what the 2021 theme means to them, what they enjoy about their role, and recent successes in their communities.
Jared Wright has served as the Director of Public Works for the City of Lenoir, North Carolina, for a little over three years. He oversees six divisions, including: engineering, streets, sanitation, building maintenance, vehicle services, and cemeteries. Jared manages a $4 million budget and 46 employees. Mike Apke, PE, is also fairly new in his role as the Public Services Director for the Village of Pinehurst, starting a little over 2.5 years ago. Mike manages a $6.4 million budget and 28 employees. The Public Services Department in Pinehurst has four teams, including solid waste, street crew, ground crew, and administration.
What does “Stronger Together” mean to you and your team?
Wright: The theme is the perfect slogan for the City of Lenoir. The City is truly invested in making Lenoir a better place for all citizens. We focus on teamwork, coming together across the organization to provide the best services possible with the resources we have. One example is in 2020, we converted to automated garbage collection vehicles. This was a big shift and required restructuring the organization to accommodate all labor positions in new ways. We acquired the vehicles, redesigned routes, trained staff, and worked on the logistical design. This required cross-team collaboration across the City and support from elected officials.
Apke: The Village of Pinehurst has four core values: service, initiative, teamwork, and improvement. “Stronger Together” can be applied to all of these values, but is especially important to our teamwork value – the desire and will to selfishly function as a high-performing whole. The work we do requires daily teamwork and collaboration, and we always strive to help each other. As an example, if a truck breaks down while we are collecting solid waste, our team comes together to solve the issue and ensure all routes are completed that day.
What inspires you to come to work every day?
Wright: I really enjoy solving problems and take pride in offering services to citizens, including maintaining public facilities and streets. I am truly invested in making Lenoir a better place.
Apke: In my role, I am implementing the Village of Pinehurst’s mission – to promote, enhance, and sustain the quality of life for our residents. There is satisfaction in making the Village a great place to live. As a resident myself, I see things differently in my role and pay a lot of attention to what is happening in the community to enhance the quality of life.
What are you most proud of that your public works team has accomplished in the last year?
Wright: We faced a lot of challenges with the pandemic. Our team was proactive, took the threats of the virus seriously, and quickly took action to follow safety procedures and guidelines, while still completing projects. This included the sanitation conversion, which was done while citizens were home more often and throwing away more trash. It took a lot of hard work by many of our employees.
Apke: I am proud of the way we continued to work through the pandemic to provide a high level of service to our residents. Our team cannot do our work from home and we had to make changes to how we operate to keep our employees safe. During this time, we saw an increase in solid waste collections and in requests for service, as more people were staying at home. Additionally, we faced some retirements in key positions, but our employees stepped up to the challenge and did not miss a beat.
What are you excited about for the future?
Wright: Over the past few months, we have added several additional sections to our greenway system. We now have approximately 12.5 miles of paved trail and have identified several other connector sections. It is exciting to see the network expand and the direction it is going.
Apke: We are planning to complete a Stormwater Master Plan in the coming year to provide guidance on how to better manage and address stormwater issues in the Village. In addition, we are currently in the early stages of evaluating a possible relocation of our Public Services Facility to a new location. While this would be a lengthy and challenging task, I am excited about the potential opportunities and improvements that a new location and facility could provide for our Department.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into the public works profession?
Wright: I would encourage anyone pursuing a career in local government to learn as much as they can about how the entire organization functions. As a City employee, I am not just the Director of Public Works, but I represent the entire City of Lenoir. I want to be able to provide answers to citizens’ questions. It is important to focus on the quality of interactions you have with people both in the organization and externally, within the community. The services we provide are fairly common for a unit of local government, but we set ourselves apart with the quality of interactions we have with our citizens. We choose to make it better in the City of Lenoir.
Apke: Public service can be very rewarding, but you have to keep things in perspective, as often the work we do originates from an unhappy resident or a complaint. However, it’s quite gratifying to know that I’m doing my part to make a difference in the community and making Pinehurst a great place to live.