It takes a lot to keep Newport News running smoothly. There is trash to be picked up. Roads to be repaired. Buildings to be maintained.
And that’s just a small part of what is done on a daily basis to keep the city clean and fully functional.
No one knows this better than Eddie Crockett, the city’s new director of Public Works. Crockett has been with the city for 22 years, but took over the reigns of the department this past summer. He oversees more than 400 full-time employees and a $67.3 million operating budget.
“Everything we do is toward the goal of keeping the city running,” he says, quoting the department’s slogan. “We enhance the quality of life in a safe and effective manner.”
The impact of public works is nothing short of enormous on the city. Residents have high expectations, and Crockett’s department prides itself on meeting them. The Department of Public Works is nationally accredited, a feather in its cap, as many departments nationwide have not met the high standards of accreditation.
“We hold Public Works to very stringent standards,” Crockett says.
What Public Works is responsible for in Newport News is staggering: solid waste, storm water management, wastewater, asset maintenance, building services, mosquito control, landfills, code violation, city work orders and service requests, snow and storm debris removal.
To put the scope of Public Works in perspective, consider what the department handles: 270 city facilities, 2,500 code violations annually, removal of 20,000 cubic yards of debris each year (excluding storm damage), 12,525 manholes, 124 generators, 500,000 service requests/work orders, city software and hardware, 500 miles of snow removal, storm water abatement and hundreds of miles of underground wastewater lines. Not only does the department deal with the day-to-day issues, it also looks to the future with sustainability initiatives that work to help the environment.
“We are always looking at next level environmental projects,” Crockett says. “We always are trying to engage the next generation through government.”
The department’s list of duties includes working on the One City Marathon and the helping to set up the holiday light display at Newport News Park.
Public Works is first on the scene during storms, clearing roads to allow utilities and emergency responders access.
“We’re the first to respond and the last to leave,” Crockett says.
Working with the city’s 311 system gives Public Works a quick, easy way to respond to residents’ concerns. Citizens call 311 to register complaints or ask for help with an issue.
Sherry Wright, senior administrative coordinator for Public Works, says the department sets out to fix anything that is reported as fast as possible.
“One thing I dislike is getting the runaround. That won’t happen here. We’re going to take the time to talk with people and get it right,” Wright says. “We want to correct anything that’s not right. We like to be helpful and do what we do well.”
The department runs like a well oiled machine, Crockett says. The employees, he adds, take great pride in their work and are experts in what they do. Crockett is proud of the work his department does on a daily basis.
“Everyone know what to do and what the expectations are,” Crockett says. “It’s a very responsive department from the top down. To us, the internal and external customers are very important.”
Crockett began his 22 years with Public Works as a crew supervisor. Before joining the city, he was in the Air Force for 20 years. “It set me up for this career,” he says. He said taking over as director from assistant director was an easy transition. “I was prepared for it,” he says. “I was glad to do it.”
Crockett says one of the biggest challenges his department faces is hiring new staff. While not all the jobs are glamorous, they are important and have lots of growth potential. Convincing the young generation of that can be difficult, but Crockett says he makes a strong case for why people should work for his department.
He is like a proud father when he talks about Public Works and all of its achievements. The department makes a huge difference in people’s lives and the image of the city.
“I see a community very well maintained. I see a community inviting to people. And I see opportunities for us to improve,” Crockett says. “Hundreds of times a day we have the opportunity to get it right or wrong. I want to get to it right.”
TO THE POINT:
Newport News Department of Public Works
Address: 513 Oyster Point Rd., Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Ed “Eddie” Crockett, director