County puts ‘public’ in public works
Rodney Dangerfield must have worked for a public works department. His lament about not getting enough respect is a dead giveaway.
But sometimes the fault lies with the department itself. Public works departments should demand respect; after all, they are doing a job that should create a better world for most Americans.
In Macomb County, Mich., Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco realized during his 1992 election campaign that many of the county’s more than 700,000 residents either did not know or, worse, did not care about the duties and responsibilities of the public works commissioner.
Marrocco decided to do something about it.
“We wanted to tell more residents they can turn to us for assistance, whether for a flooding problem or to cart off an old refrigerator someone dumped in one of our county drains,” he says.
Marrocco wasted little time. A few weeks after the election, his office produced a two-color brochure entitled “Protecting Our Environment,” in which he detailed the functions of the Public Works Office and pointed to some of its past accomplishments.
“This office’s primary function is directing the construction and maintenance of stormwater drains, sanitary sewers and water supply systems,” Marrocco says. “Staff employees also have responsibility over soil erosion control, review of subdivision plats and operation of county flood control and anti-pollution facilities.”
“Protecting Our Environment” features photographs of a storm drain project, a pumping station, the county’s Clinton River and a 200-foot-wide open storm drain that traverses the city of Sterling Heights.
The brochure points out that the Public Works Office maintains 750 drains stretching some 700 miles in length. Readers may be interested in knowing that sewage backups and flooded basements are minimized in three Macomb County cities by two water retention basins that have a combined capacity of 36.6 million gallons.
The department maintains 2,750-hp pumps weighing 75 tons each that individually can pump more than 230,000 gpm, as well.
To date, more than 25,000 of the blue, black and white brochures have been tucked into office correspondence envelopes along with notices of public hearings and other official business letters. It is one of several brochures and leaflets included among pamphlets that are available in the office’s lobby.
Marrocco also has stocked a display case with dozens of titles, covering topics from environmental issues to road maps, the most popular item. Residents walking into the lobby can browse among the pamphlets while waiting for assistance.
The leaflets also are available free of charge. “We’ve tried to select a cross-section of topics that most people would be interested in,” Marrocco says. “Most of them do not deal directly with public works.” Additionally, Marrocco’s office produced “Recycling and Energy Conservation Information,” a brochure that provides tips on how to conserve valuable resources.
Copies are distributed at city and township halls and at local social gatherings, such as card parties, PTA functions and service club breakfasts.
The brochure points out, for instance, that draining a bucket of water from your water heater twice a year removes sediment and improves efficiency. Another tip: Larger-watt light bulbs are usually more efficient than smaller-watt models.
Browsers also can pinpoint the locations in their communities where they can recycle glass, paper, metals and plastics. But the public relations campaign is not all about brochures. Realizing that residents are interested in construction activity taking place in their neighborhood, Marrocco sends personal letters to affected citizens whenever a project is undertaken. The letters inform residents exactly what will happen, how much it is going to cost and who is paying for the project. They are invited to call with any questions, and many do.
To get its message across in other ways, the Public Works Office offers area school children and their teachers an opportunity to tour the gigantic Chapaton Pumping Station and Retention Basin in St. Clair Shores, Mich. Several schools have taken part, along with senior citizen groups.
Marrocco gives each tour participant a pamphlet describing how the county keeps its water clean, a copy of “Protecting Our Environment” and other brochures and maps of interest to elementary school pupils and senior citizens.
A 10-minute video program shown to service clubs, schools and other groups that have requested a viewing accompanied by a speaker is another way the department makes itself accessible. Much of the video focuses on the Public Works Office in action. Construction projects, soil erosion control methods, inspections and pollution-control facilities are featured. A segment of the video highlights the 1993 installation of concrete and steel storm drain pipes that measure 12 feet in diameter and weigh 25 tons each.
The project was part of a $3.1 million, two-mile-long underground project that accommodated a major thoroughfare reconstruction in Sterling Heights.
“The public needs to know the functions of the Public Works Office and the effect we have on residents’ lives on a daily basis,” Marrocco says.
“Awareness builds understanding, and that is our goal … to increase public perception of what we are about.”