Plainfield's Mayor Mapp: DPW, Working for Every Resident

John Louise, DPW Credits: City of Plainfield
John Louise, DPW Credits: City of Plainfield

There are many things we take for granted when it comes to the smooth running of our city. When it snows we expect the roads to be cleared in an efficient and timely manner; we want decent roads to drive on, brush and leaves taken away, clean streets, etc.  All these functions are performed by one department.
Here in Plainfield, we are fortunate to have a very hardworking and efficient Department of Public Works. They work quietly behind the scenes to ensure that these, and other essential services are performed without fanfare. The burden that this Department carries is that often they go unnoticed until something goes wrong or is needed urgently.
In 2016 our DPW Department paved 16 streets and one parking lot, and they utilized some creative methods in 2016 to minimize operational costs while meeting the needs of our residents.

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One such innovative approach was the purchase of a Pothole Doctor. Using only a single operator the pothole doctor technology makes repairs to roadways which are then ready for immediate use! The repairs last longer than the cold patch method utilized in the past.  There is also a reduction in labor cost.

Another way of minimizing costs was utilizing the shared services agreement with the Union County Road Division. Our Public Works staff used County employees and County equipment to assist with the completion of several large spot milling and repaving projects; this eliminated the need for expensive rental charges.  

Harnessing the collective buying power of the Morris County Co-op, several streets were milled and resurfaced representing a tremendous cost savings benefit to our taxpayers. The DPW Department took on an initiative called the Mayor's Light Up the City Program:  Over 300 streetlights were reported and subsequently serviced by Public Service in 2016.

Our DPW Department is one of the best when it comes to handling snow emergencies and dealing with other unforeseen storm related calls. While we may not notice every thing they do, they're out there working hard every day.

The Department has had some rocky moments over the past year with the unexpected loss of the Director mid-year. Despite this, they managed to carry on and deliver exceptional service. We were happy to welcome a new Director Mr. Oren K. Dabney who brings with him a wealth of experience to complement the team.

It takes many cogs to turn a wheel, and the DPW is an important cog in the City of Plainfield's wheel. Always working for the benefit of our residents and finding ways to make our community more functional and more beautiful.

Creating One Plainfield, One Future...

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp
City of Plainfield


Employee Spotlight - John Louise - Department of Public Works

Here in the City of Plainfield, we feel that some of the best resources we have are the people who work here. Many of our employees go above and beyond to ensure that our community is getting the best possible service. In this space, we'd like to introduce you to some of those persons who before now may have been just a faceless name. The ones who are working hard for Plainfield.

Our first Spotlight Guest is Mr. John Louise who is the Superintendent of Public Works.
Hi, John, it's great to see you, thanks for taking the time to chat with us.
Q. How long have you been with the City?
A. I Started here in 1990; I've been here now for 27 years.
Q. Have you always had the same role?
A. No, I started as a seasonal worker raking leaves, I was making $6.25 an hour at the time. I did that for one year, and then I was made permanent as a tree climber. Shortly after that, I was promoted to senior tree climber and then Supervisor of trees.

In 1997 I was made the Assistant Superintendent of the Public Works Department and then Superintendent in 2005.

I've had a lot of responsibility since 1997 because my immediate boss had some medical problems, so I had to manage a lot for him.
Q. Have you enjoyed the years spent here?
A. I love it! It is never mundane, there are so many different facets to the Public Works responsibility, and I enjoy the diversity of tasks. It's not a typical 9-5, you have to keep switching gears, and deal with a lot of different personalities besides the public. I have 38 persons who report to me and some days I have to be a psychologist, mom, and dad, whatever. I also have to balance the operational side and the human side. I have to keep my employees motivated, and that can be tough.
Q. What drives you, what is your motivation? What pushes you to give outstanding service?
A. I started working very young, doing snow removal at age 11.  I was one of eight kids all born at Muhlenberg. I had to learn to work, But I was taught by the older generation that you go to work and give a good day's work. I enjoy what I do. I once read a book that talked about the secrets of successful people. The most consistent theme was that they all loved their jobs. I love what I do, and it makes me want to push myself to get it done. I don't take my obligation to the public lightly. I tell my staff all the time that when we do things like snow removal, we could be saving lives - because if the roads aren't properly salted someone could get hurt or worse.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge in 27 years?
A. That would have to be effectively communicating to public, council and over the years each successive administration exactly what we do. Some things seem so easy; "just plow the road." But there is so much more involved. There are so many factors involved in clearing a road properly and so many things that can and often do go wrong. It's not as straightforward as it may seem and it's sometimes difficult to convey that.
I'll share a story with you about effective communication... in my early years as a Public Works employee, I was at work, minding my business just trying to work as hard as possible and my boss at the time came to me and said: "John, you're gonna go to high places." I said "really?!" he said, "yes I can see it right now, you're gonna go high."

I was so excited, I was about 25 at the time...  I was so happy! I came to work the next day, and they put me in the tree climbing department. Hahahaha. My boss drove by and yelled up at me "I told you, you'd be going to high places!"
I guess the lesson is that - effective communication and understanding is key to success in any field.

Public Works, (not the administrative staff) but the general staff are not necessarily the most advanced when it comes to things like technology. I remember I went home one day, I had bought a computer for my kids, it was a Dell,  and I was writing up a report, and my daughter said to me "Daddy, why don't you type it on the computer?" I said, "are you kidding me?"

This was years ago, but I asked for a computer at the office, and I was given an old one left behind by someone at the Senior Center. This was really the introduction of technology into the process here. Now the reports could be typed up and printed out.  

There are still a lot of areas that I want to streamline utilizing technology. I want to make the process as paperless as possible.  I'd eventually like all the guys to do their reports on the computer and use tablets for communication out in the field, but it takes time and some investment. It's a slow walk because everyone has a different level of education here. But, I am a firm believer in utilizing technology and equipment to make the job less labor intensive.
With that being said, we've come a long way. When I started here, there were no snow blowers and a lot less equipment. But we're always looking ahead. We are one of the first cities in the area to use brine to aid in snow removal. It's a de-icing agent. Regular salt bounces all over the road and a lot of it ends up on the edges of the road. Liquid brine sits right where you want it to, in the roadway. It won't spill out because it's liquid. Also dry salt you can't apply too early because it will be displaced before the snow, but the liquid can be applied up to 24-48 hours in advance; this can cut down on overtime cost and material.
During the storms, we log a lot of hours. During Sandy, I slept here on top of my desk and showered in the mechanic's garage. I worked the first 48 hours straight then I worked every weekend and every evening for four months without a break - I think I clocked about 400 hours.  I hope we never see another storm like that one again.
One of the most rewarding things I've ever done is install the monument at the police department. We totally changed the look outside of the Police Department, and I loved doing that. It's typically not what a Public Works department will do, but it was gratifying, I love doing stuff like that. We did an overhaul at the Veterans Center and picked out furniture for them. I also do a lot of cooking at the City events. I like manning the grill; I think one event I cooked 1400 hot dogs.
One of the best things I did was get CPWM certified.  Public Works when I joined was a low paying job and didn't require someone who was necessarily highly skilled.

The CPWM or Certified Public Works Manager came about because Public Works employees across the state wanted to have some standard for the proper running of a Public Works Department and this certification was the result. To be a Public Works Manager, you now have to have this certification or someone in the town has to have the certification. Right now there are probably over 4000 certified managers in NJ but my number is 807, so I was one of the first. It's not an easy test... I'm by no means a rocket scientist but it has 9 phases, and it wasn't a cake walk. But it was one of the best things I ever did getting that certification. One of the best classes during the process was a psychology course taught by Rutgers. It helped me to self-evaluate, and it helps when dealing with my staff here.
Q. What would you change if you had to do it over again? Any regrets?
A. I feel that I've been very blessed and fortunate over the years and I have to say I don't have any major regrets.
Q. So what's next for John Louise professionally?
A. I want to get more of the workers utilizing technology in the department. We have huge re-paving and re-milling projects coming up, and we're going to be using a more cost effective method of doing the roads. The Pothole Doctor is something we're proud of that cuts down on labor and repairs the road efficiently. It's a one-man operation, and we're always seeking out new technology like that. Anything that can save time and money for our taxpayers.
Q. Are you thinking of retirement?
A. Eventually... we all have to retire, so it's coming, but I have no immediate plans. There's still a lot to get done here, and I'm happy doing what I do.

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