Accreditation from some professional associations in various fields proves tougher to earn than others. The one recently awarded to Garner’s public works department falls on the “more difficult” end of that spectrum.
The American Public Works Association honored Garner Public Works as the first in the state and 95th in the nation to earn accreditation, which APWA said recognizes agencies that go “beyond the requirements” of industry standards.
The department handles a wide range of services in Garner, ranging from building upkeep and street and sidewalk maintenance to vehicle maintenance and solid waste services.
Public Works director Paul Cox said a lot of work went into a three-year process to reach the point where they were ready for multiple APWA representatives to travel to Garner and spend two days poring over documentation and observing procedures.
He said the accreditation and what it says about the department should lend his department credibility in the eyes of the taxpayer.
“We’re looking to increase the effectiveness of all our policies and get our practices up to snuff. The public can rest assured that we are up to these standards,” Cox said. “They (APWA representatives) were impressed by what they saw.”
Cox credited assistant director Forrest Jones with a lot of the work to put the effort together.
When they visited, assessors graded 290 areas within the department as being in full compliance, and noted 12 areas considered “model processes.”
“That means the model practice should be shared with other agencies,” Cox noted.
Customer service received high marks, he said, and Garner Info – an app and web platform that allows residents to electronically report problems for public works to address – was specifically commended.
Other focus areas included documentation of inventory, equipment, procedures and policies. Strategic planning, Cox said, involves essentially all other town departments, from human resources to IT to security and emergency operations.
“It’s a program where you compare where you stand, your procedures and policies versus a national standard,” Cox said. “Probably every agency does most of this stuff, but don’t have it laid out in a structured way, they don’t have it laid out in documentation.”
He said the documentation ensures that best practices aren’t lost over time or through management changes.
The department will have to apply for re-accredition every four years to continue to hold the distinction.
Other accredited public works departments in the region include three in South Carolina: Anderson County, Charleston County, and Georgetown County. Accredited local governments in Virginia include Alexandria, Newport news, (City of) Chesapeake, Richmond, Prince William County, Virginia Beach and Smithfield.