Resilient & Reliable – How the Southlake Public Works Team Defines Our Values
Some DFW residents worked from home. Some still had to report to work to make sure the critical needs of everyone in the area were met. Life slowed down for some during this time, but roads, infrastructure and water are still necessities residents need daily.
“Our workers have been showing up every day,” Public Works Director Rob Cohen said. “They’re working from non-traditional sites while continuing to provide critical and vital services to our customers. Our end goal is to meet regulatory requirements, achieve the highest level of customer satisfaction as safely and efficiently as possible.”
Although employee safety is a part of the department’s normal routine, specific protocols including social distancing, vehicle and office space cleaning and sanitization and wearing gloves and masks have now been implemented for field employees.
Employees that do not work in the field are equipped with office supplies and technology to work remotely, when they return to work, the same practices will be in place.
In mid – April, the Public Works Department experienced a tragic loss, losing one of their own. Administrative Secretary Darlene Rubio passed away as a result of complications from COVID-19.
“Darlene’s loss caught our workforce by surprise,” Cohen said. “The true reality of her being gone did not officially hit the organization until we brought back our employees to our Operations Facility. This is where Darlene worked and the realization of her passing became more clear as her desk was left untouched since she left in early March.”
Employees were allowed to grieve as needed, however, due to social distancing guidelines, the ability to attend services or gather together in mourning was highly unlikely.
The City Manager’s Office set up a tribute page for employees to post their farewell thoughts in her memory. These pages will be included in a book and presented to Darlene’s family.
“Our workforce is an outward facing, customer centric organization. Our employees take pride in their work and desire to continue to provide essential services to our customers. The ability for them to return to work and do what they do best has helped the healing process.” Cohen said. “Our workforce is comprised of dedicated professionals who will continue to preserve Darlene’s memory in their own personal way. There is no doubt, however, that we are doing what Darlene would want us to do — to continue to move forward and serve — just as she has selflessly served our country and our city.”
The Southlake Public Works team resiliency and dedication through this time is a great example of how exemplifying the City’s values of integrity, innovation, accountability, excellence and teamwork.
Quietly, with no fanfare, one group of employees is working hard to make a significant impact during these interesting times.
Southlake’s facilities team, custodians, and purchasing manager are working together to ensure that city buildings are white-glove clean and properly disinfected for safety. Like most behind-the-scenes players, these employees aren’t usually the first ones noticed, but they are incredibly valuable for making City operations run smoothly.
“City buildings will be opening to the public soon,” said Assistant City Manager Ben Thatcher. “This group of employees are working on the front lines to make it possible.”
In addition to increased site cleaning in anticipation of reopening, the team is working to reduce touchpoints, purchase adequate supplies, and disinfect areas of frequent use by employees and the public, including areas in Town Square parking garages.
“There has and will continue to be cleaning and disinfection of light switches, doorknobs, push plates, handrails, elevator buttons, and drawer handles,” notes Public Works Director Rob Cohen.
The team will also make sure doors remain open, as possible, horizontal surfaces are continually cleaned, and food and common areas are downsized and cleaned according to established regimens and schedules. A contracted cleaning company will continue to clean on a weekly basis.
Facilities employees spearhead the procurement of cleaning supplies for the city and manage the disinfection contract for the city. They do this while also performing normal custodial duties and performing corrective and preventive maintenance work for our facilities,” said Cohen. He also pointed out that staff is also busy making sure that sneeze guards have been installed at specific locations and that hand sanitizing stations are readily available.
At The Marq, the custodial team is busy preparing for reopening, as well. With 110,000 square feet, 16 bathrooms, locker rooms, two elevators, counters, equipment, tables and chairs, doors, railings, and other surfaces, it’s a big job.
“Our work is very customer-centric,” said Chris Tribble, Director of Community Services. “Our facilities staff is absolutely committed to maintaining Legends Hall and Champions Club for customer and employee safety.”
Southlake’s MVP cleaning teams include Carmelita Goen, Sarah Cooper, Justin Bourquin, Andrew Merrick, Juan Sanchez, David Aguayo, Dustin Medlen, Adam Whigham, and John Rodriguez. Superstar Purchasing Manager Tim Slifka rounds out the team, ensuring that certain supplies and equipment are available for the team’s use.
The City of Southlake is mourning the death of Southlake Public Works employee Darlene Rubio as a result of complications from COVID-19.
Darlene was an Administrative Secretary with the department and had worked for the City for four years.
“Darlene’s death is a mighty blow to our organization,” said City Manager Shana Yelverton. ”As a military veteran and an award-winning, tenured employee, she knew what it meant to be a faithful public servant.”
“Darlene was a cornerstone to our operations,” said Public Works Director Rob Cohen. “Her ability to work through the sometimes complicated nature of our business made her an essential member of our team,” he added.
Darlene started with the City in August 2015. Previous to her City work, she worked with Affiliated Bank as well as One Main Financial/CitiFinancial. Before her work in the financial sector, she spent four years in the United States Marine Corps, assisting senior-level military officers.
“We enjoyed working with Darlene and will miss her,” said City Manager Yelverton. “We are heartbroken that she is gone, and we offer our deepest condolences to her family and friends.”
March 16-22, 2020 is designated as National Fix a Leak Week, a week aimed at promoting awareness of water waste and what you can do to save water and money!
Did you know that in Southlake, there is a 1 in 20 chance your home has a leak? Leaky faucets, running toilets, old and worn out plumbing fixtures and faulty irrigation controllers contribute to an average of 200 gallons of water waste a day. That much water waste can seriously impact your pocket book!
Fix a Leak Week encourages you to take control of your water use by checking places where leaks typically occur. The premise is simple: Take 10 minutes. Check the faucets, toilets, dishwasher and other sources for potential leaks and then take the necessary steps to fix the leak:
Looking for more information on fixing leaks? Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s website at www.epa.gov/watersense.
The City of Southlake’s Public Works Department was named a Texas Environmental Excellence Award finalist by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
The City was recognized for its F.O.G. (Fats, Oils, and Grease) Team’s efforts to work with restaurants, daycares, and hotels to reduce oil and grease that enters the sewer system. The F.O.G. team has also conducted outreach to residents looking to recycle their used cooking oil over the holidays.
The City was one of the first in the DFW Metroplex to initiate a comprehensive program that includes employees from different divisions of the Southlake Public Works Department.
“We asked this team to bring their collective knowledge and skills for better problem solving and better results, said Public Works Director Rob Cohen. “In addition to improving the environment by reducing sanitary sewer overflows, the F.O.G. team’s proactive efforts also provided cost savings of just over $46,000 in 2019.”
“By developing a working relationship with our community members, we have been able to reduce our operating costs. When you look at the environmental and cost benefits, there is no doubt this is a win-win situation for all of us,” says Wastewater Supervisor Jason Arellano.
The City’s F.O.G. program has been in operation since June 2017 and is continuously evolving to perfect all aspects of the program. The many facets that make this program successful include wastewater sampling, grease trap inspections, permitting liquid waste haulers, partnering with the City’s Code Enforcement, and offering a free oil recycling program to residents, among others.
“We’re constantly on the lookout for improvements we can make and new educational opportunities we can provide to business owners and residents. The best part about this program is getting to personalize our interactions with the community to reflect their needs and concerns,” says Environmental Coordinator Ashley Carlisle.
For more information on fats, oils, and grease, please visit the City’s webpage.
During the February 4 Southlake City Council session, a mutual aid agreement with the North Central Texas Public Works Emergency Response Team was approved. PWERT provides resources during an emergency or disaster to support local governments. There are currently 62 cities that are PWERT members. The organization is voluntary and there is no cost associated with membership.
“Being prepared for emergencies is more than just weather alerts. If a disaster strikes, we want to be prepared to get basic services like water back up and running as soon as possible,” Director of Public Works Rob Cohen said. “This agreement will help us request any necessary resources to make that happen.”
By becoming a PWERT member, the City’s goal is to restore core services as quickly as possible after an emergency or disaster. The agreement not only works to expedite recovery after a disaster, but works out legal and financial issues in advance. Member cities have access to request resources such as personnel, equipment, vehicles, generators and sand bags.
The partnership with PWERT allows Southlake to achieve high performance management standards by collaborating with partners for the benefit of citizens.
The City continues aiming to achieve the highest standards of safety and security by investing in and maintaining quality public assets. City Council authorized expenditures at the November 19 council meeting to replace the existing 20 year old pump control valves, which will ensure critical operation of the T. W. Booster Station that is located at 3655 T.W. King Road.
This Booster Station is vital to the welfare of Southlake residents because it is utilized to deliver potable drinking water and also provides fire protection in case of an emergency.
Booster Stations increase low water pressure by pumping the water purchased from our Wholesale Provider to the water towers, then ultimately into a home or commercial facility.
The T.W. King Booster Station is one of Southlakes’ two points of entry from Fort Worth with the capacity to distribute approximately 17 million gallons of water per day.
The funds were set aside in the FY2020 Utility Fund and Water Operating budget to replace two 12-inch booster pump control valves along with providing additional repair services if needed. These replacements are necessary to provide adequate protection to the low-pressure plane to meet demand and supply of this area.
Services will be provided by Axis Construction, LP who is also required to provide emergency replacement of a broken beyond repair 16-inch surge anticipating valve with a standard Cla-Val brand valve. This valve helps alleviate any pressure surge the system may encounter due to a power failure.
The City always seeks a proactive solution to our infrastructure; by investing in our public assets strategically, the City can continue to provide the highest quality of life for our residents.
This year will be the first time Southlake participates in the North Central Texas Council of Government’s Holiday Grease Roundup. The City of Southlake’s Public Works Department will provide a collection station where residents can drop off cooking grease to be recycled for FREE at 1950 E. Continental Blvd. in the visitor parking lot. The collection station will be accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from November 25, 2019, until January 6, 2020.
Improper disposal of grease can lead to clogged pipes. This can cause sewer lines to backup in your home, which leads to expensive repairs and health concerns. To help prevent sewer backups and clogged pipes, the Holiday Grease Roundup aims to provide a convenient location for residents to recycle grease.
The City hopes you have a wonderful holiday season and invites you to dispose of your cooking oil and grease responsibly. Free grease collection containers will be available for pickup in the actual collection station or residents can come inside the City’s Operations Center at 1950 E. Continental Blvd on weekdays from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm. For more information on other cities in the area that are participating, click here.
Honor. Courage. Commitment.
Before becoming the director of Public Works for the City of Southlake in 2016, Robert Cohen dedicated 20 years of service to the United States Navy – and brought its core values with him to serve Southlake.
Cohen has delivered services across the globe and continues to foster a culture of superior performance, customer service, accountability, and integrity with the 69 employees under his direction in Public Works.
“Having a career in Southlake means that I get to work alongside passionate professionals who have dedicated their lives to serving Southlake. I am truly honored and humbled to have the opportunity and privilege to work with, for and alongside dedicated teams of true professionals who bring their best to Southlake every day; at every event, for every reason and in any season,” stated Cohen.
Patriotism has laid the foundation for Cohen’s path to military service. Having grown up in a community near several major military installations and a military family, Cohen knew he wanted to become part of what he believed was a very elite organization comprised of disciplined individuals protecting freedom and democracy.
Cohen was commissioned in the Navy upon his college graduation and went on to hold roles in public works, program, asset and facilities management, and capital improvements within the Navy while achieving the rank of commander. He also obtained his professional engineer’s license, became a trained financial specialist, and was a member of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Acquisition Corps and a Certified DoD Level II Facility Engineer.
With military experiences as diverse as the positions he has held, a few notable examples include his accountability for a multi-million dollar global energy program, a sweeping shore installation reorganization that integrated 130+ full-time employees from three separate organizations, and resolution of an overseas drinking water treatment issue that ended up saving the Navy $4 million. Cohen also received a Letter of Commendation from the Navy’s senior legal service admiral for saving $200,000 associated with a courtroom renovation project.
Looking for more continuity and less change in his career, Cohen decided to step away from the military.
“I saw many commonalities between serving in the Navy and pursuing a municipal career. I felt that the transition would be somewhat easier if my new career would be similar to what I gravitated toward while in the military, such as public works, said Cohen. “I am a servant leader and wanted to serve a population in the many facets of public works, but on a much smaller scale. I enjoy serving people and if at all possible, working alongside others for a common cause.”
Now, as the director of Public Works for the City of Southlake, Cohen continues to use his extensive military experiences to deliver municipal services. He leads a department that provides public services through planning, engineering, constructing, inspecting, operating, and maintaining Southlake’s public infrastructure. At the helm of a department that manages a $40 million capital improvement program, he guides the oversight of numerous contracts for services as well as inter-local agreements and ensures the department’s responsibility for the environmental protection of the City’s creeks and streams.
“Leading a department responsible for mobility, construction, water, and sewer in the City can be stressful at times, but I imagine Rob’s rigorous military training is the reason why he has been able to stay calm and set priorities to accomplish big results,” said Assistant City Manager Ben Thatcher.
Cohen is one of 35 military veterans employed by the City of Southlake. Veterans Day serves as a humble reminder to recognize and celebrate the brave men and women who have served our country.
“With more than 30 military veterans on our team, we fully appreciate the value they bring to Southlake,” stated City Manager Shana Yelverton. One of the best things about working with Rob and all of our veterans is their willingness to adapt to changing circumstances.”