Sunday, December 3, 2023

Public Works Teams Up Through Hardship to Provide Essential Services

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs classifies the basic human requirements as physiological such as food, water and shelter. When we dive down to determine essentials to keep our life going; water, plumbing and pathways to get to food and shelter are likely to make the list along with being with our loved ones.

March 2020 became a reminder of some of the essential services we often take for granted like turning on the faucet to drink a glass of water, flushing the toilet, driving down a roadway to the grocery store or even taking a stroll down the neighborhood sidewalk for a breath of fresh air.

Access to these necessities couldn’t cease.

“The COVID-19 environment forced us to develop a new service delivery model – one that would protect our workforce and customers as we continued to deliver our core services,” Public Works Director Rob Cohen said. “Our team overcame a tremendous number of setbacks and obstacles, yet their resilience continues to help us persevere through these uncharted times. I’m very proud of our team. They came together in a way that exemplified their ‘can do’ mantra while adhering to our exceptionally high standards and values.”

Public Works Operations’ primary duties involve tools in their hands and mud on their boots. When the call came to work from home, Public Works Operations Manager Jack Thompson was tasked with coordinating logistics and creating a sense of team among workers who weren’t used to collaborating digitally, all while he was required to work from home.

“Rob’s support and confidence in our team helped us to do what we needed to do in order to continue providing our services,” Thompson said. “We had the trust to make good decisions and the ability to make changes on the fly to make sure we were providing high-quality services to our residents and performing those duties in a safe manner.”

Operations Crew Leader Tim Hackrott came up with the idea to station teams at the water towers. Thompson stationed one person from the water, wastewater and streets teams at the water towers so that teams were socially distanced while the Public Works Operations facility was shut down. Most requests were handled via phone call to lessen the amount of exposure to the public and emergencies were responded to as needed.

Despite all the changes, production never fell off. Public Works Operations completed 234 water quality samples and continued 24/7 monitoring of water levels and pumping operations.

When workers weren’t in the field, they were updating standard operating procedures and obtaining FEMA and emergency management certifications.

“We were here every day. There was always something to take care of and processes to document and improve on,” Thompson said.

When Public Works Operations lost their teammate Darlene Rubio to COVID-19, they continued to press on. Public Works Administration Secretary Lydia Ruiz picked up the baton, not only managing work from administration, but handling all of Rubio’s assignments.

“I think losing Darlene really hit home. COVID-19 wasn’t just in the news, it was real for all of us,” Ruiz said.

In addition to her regular duties, she has worked to support telecommuting staff in new ways, managing finance and administration tasks, information packets for the City Council, as well as assisting in the development of the department budget.

She said the team has experienced a lot of change in the past several months, but she tries to make herself available as an assistant, especially to the remote workers who feel disconnected from their coworkers.

“We’re a close-knit group in Public Works. The City has done an excellent job of hiring the right people who make a great team,” Ruiz said. “Everyone is willing to lend a hand.”

Through our Southlake Values of Integrity, Innovation, Accountability, Excellence and Teamwork, our Public Works team has stepped up to the task to rethink the new world of working with social distancing, do the right thing and take personal responsibility for the work, all while working together to set a higher standard for services in Southlake.

Learn more about the essential services Southlake Public Works provides here.