Brian Bray looks and sounds like the kind of person who would be comfortable in a corner office somewhere. Then again, he looks and sounds like he belongs in the work pants and boots he wears to job sites every day as a crew leader for the Town of Wendell’s Public Works Department.
Bray’s job actually requires skills for both kinds of jobs and his ability to pull them off has won him the nod as Wendell’s Employee of the Year.
Bray received the recognition at the town staff’s Christmas luncheon earlier this month. What makes his recognition unusual is that Bray has worked for the town less than two years. Many previous winners of the award have been long-term town employees.
His boss, Public Works Director Alton Bryant, says Bray’s wide breadth of experience made him an easy choice when the town was looking to hire a new crew leader. “He has so many skills that really just fit into what we needed on our team,” Bryant said. “It’s easy for me (to understand why Bray won the award) because of his sincerety and his desire to do a good job with every task he does. He understands our desire to focus on customer service, which is something we’ve worked on across all the departments in town government,” Bryant said.
Bray’s job is actually something of a hybrid position. As a crew leader, he creates weekly work schedules for the five crew members and he works with the department’s budget to make sure money is spent wisely. He also visits job sites around town on a regular basis to make sure the work crews and contractors are progressing with the work. But you might also see him working with a crew on a job from time to time as well. “I’ll get in there and help dig a ditch or remove snow if that’s what I need to do,” Bray said.
That versatility has served Bray well in the past. He’s worked with the Department of Defense, as a police officer in an Indianopolis suburb and he’s owned his own business, working as a contractor with towns to provide heavy equipment for large public works jobs.
Despite the varied career, Bray says he’s not a job hopper and the ability of the town of Wendell to keep its employees was one of the things that caught his eye when he started through the application process to join the town staff. “It says something about the town, the people who run the town and the people who live here, when people don’t see a job with a small town like Wendell as just a jumping off point for another job,” Bray said. “That made me want to come to work here.”
Bray and the members of his crew perform a lot of tasks that people may not often see. They fix broken sidewalks, collect limbs (it took Bray and his staff six weeks to collect all the limbs after Hurricane Matthew) and pick up trash along the roadside on the town’s major thoroughfares.
But they also service all the town’s heavy equipment like the streetsweeper and a knuckleboom truck that Bray and his crew use for things like putting up Christmas lights.
Bray says the department faces challenges as the town grows and the demands on his department increase. “One of the things I was hoping to do was to help make us more efficient. I guard the budget like it’s my own money and I want to make sure we get the most we can out of what we spend. And so I think about how we can work smarter, not harder,” Bray said.
Guarding the budget sometimes means telling other public works employees that the town can’t spend money on a new piece of equipment. But Bray hopes that by looking for savings in other areas, the budget could eventually allow those other purchases.
In a department like public works, where the workflow and the budget can be thrown out of whack by an unexpected breakdown or a hard winter, Bray says it’s a balancing act all the time. But he says Bryant has been open to ideas Bray has brought to the table. “That makes me feel good that I could offer up an idea and it would be considered,” Bray said.
Of course, it helps when the ideas themselves are good ones. And Bray’s fellow employees have noticed the quality of the work he does for the town.
“For him to have received this award, it’s not only obvious to us here in the public works department who work around him every day, but other people have obviously noticed his work as well,” Bryant said.