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.
Managing a road maintenance program involves more than filling potholes.
Southlake has more than 197 city-maintained miles of roadway in its system. To ensure proper investment in the system, segments are prioritized for maintenance work by assessing roadway conditions. This allows the City to manage year-over-year costs and ensure that conditions are maintained at an appropriate level.
“Last year the city allocated $1,000,000 to maintain roadways,” said Rob Cohen, Director of Public Works. “It’s necessary to conduct a condition assessment to help us determine the best way to spend those dollars.”
Pavement condition is measured using criteria developed by the Asphalt Institute. The criteria are used to evaluate roadway segments based on thirteen defects found in pavement surfaces. Ride condition or roughness and surface distress are key considerations. Ultimately a pavement quality index (PQI) rating is assigned.
“Typical values for newly constructed pavement range from 9.5 to 10.0,” said Cohen. He noted that rehabilitation is needed when the rating falls to 7.0 or below.
The City aims to maintain its system at a minimum PQI rating of 7.8. For 2019, Southlake’s system scored an overall 8.2.
“Each year, we assess half of our public streets to ensure that all of Southlake’s roads are evaluated at least every two years,” said Assistant City Manager Ben Thatcher. “Our work program is built around condition ratings and field inspections.”
Condition assessment and related maintenance budgeting is also a critical aspect of the City’s financial audit.
“We are required to report the extent to which we have invested in capital assets, including roads,” said Thatcher. “It’s important to show that we are managing our infrastructure in a financially responsible way and not deferring maintenance or underinvesting.”
Using a method to evaluate road conditions and invest to maintain streets at an acceptable level is a vital infrastructure management practice, as well as a component of strong financial management.
“Investing in roads at the right time can save you money in the long run,” Cohen said.
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.”