The Public Works Nerds

Mark Maloney: A Career Spanning Three Decades in Public Works

July 20, 2023 Marc Culver, PE and Mike Spack, PE Season 1 Episode 9
The Public Works Nerds
Mark Maloney: A Career Spanning Three Decades in Public Works
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On Friday, July 21st, 2023 Mark Maloney will end his public works career after almost 29 years at the City of Shoreview, MN, and over 32 total years in the engineering and public works field. We are dropping this bonus episode one day before that official retirement to celebrate his remarkable career. 

Mark has been a role model for many of us in Minnesota, and beyond, dedicating time to the City Engineers Association of Minnesota and the Minnesota Chapter of APWA. In this bonus episode we pay tribute his outstanding and award winning career. We talk about how public works professionals often times end up as generalists, yet become experts in areas they least expected when they started their careers. Mark's expertise in permeable pavements is prime example of this. We hope you enjoy this career review while learning about permeable pavements, city council relationships, and professional society involvement. Mark, thank you for your years of service to Shoreview and the public works community!

Mike Spack:

Hey Mike, hey Marc. I'm excited today we're here with Mark Maloney, Public Works Director for the City of Shoreview, and, as he's told us, he's moving towards retirement and spent the last year collecting Lifetime Achievement Awards from all the organizations and all the great things he's done in his career. And with that, Mark, why don't you tell us a little bit, kind of just a quick snapshot of your career and tell us, put Shoreview into perspective, size of the city, size of your staff, and paint some color for our listeners?

Mark Maloney:

Sure, well, I'm about as Minnesota as you get. I was born, raised, college educated and every job I've ever had has all been within a 25-mile radius in the Twin Cities, and so I was kind of destined to go to U of M. But I had kind of a little bit of an unusual start. As a high school summer job I worked on a survey crew for an engineering firm and that gave me some insights into what I might want to do later on in life, and so I stayed in that company on and off while I was in college and ended up actually working there upon graduation. But I quickly found that I thought I was a better fit for the public sector and that led me to eventually to the city of Shoreview where I've worked for the last 29 years. I have a staff. My department is about 30 people. Typically Shoreview is a suburb in the North Twin Cities that has about a population of about 27,000 right now and the city in the time that I've been there the city has probably grown its infrastructure by 15%. The community was still growing when I came there in 1994. And at this point it's pretty much completely developed, but actually moving into redevelopment of some parcels and that's kind of how you know you've been somewhere a long time is when you're rebuilding stuff you originally built in terms of roadways and other things, and so I've had the great blessing to be there for the entire life cycle of a number of pieces of infrastructure.

Marc Culver:

I just want to touch on that. Just because it's in my head, I'm going to ask the question. So, as you're rebuilding something you built, did you curse yourself over anything?

Bolton & Menk:

Sometimes we never admit failure at least in front of the public.

Mark Maloney:

There have been some things that we've done in Shoreview in the time that I've been there where we were trying different things, and sometimes they're wildly successful. In other times we learn from it, and so that's kind of how we chalk it up, and I've had this great blessing of working in a community for 29 years that it didn't just encourage innovation. I think they kind of expected it, and so I maybe had a license there that maybe some of our counterparts in other communities don't always feel like they have. I've had very, very stable leadership in terms of elected officials and city managers, and that creates an environment where you feel a little safer and taking some intelligent risks, and so if Shoreview has any type of reputation for being innovative or creative with public infrastructure, I think it's primarily due to that.

Mike Spack:

Good. How have you gone about building your relationships with the elected officials and, as turnover happens, how have you gone about building that rapport?

Mark Maloney:

Well, as I mentioned, the city has a very, very unusual legacy or history of having stability with its mayors and its city managers. I was hired in 1994 by a city manager who just retired last year. Wow. So I had one boss as a public works director. I had one boss for 28 years. We had a mayor who just recently didn't choose to run for reelection, who had been mayor of Shoreview for 26 consecutive years and prior to that had been on the city council, and so that's kind of the framework for the stability is that we've had a uniform sort of approach to values in the community. And the other thing that I think, as a public infrastructure person, that I have to note is that Shoreview has had a long range infrastructure replacement program, that it doesn't attempt to have a great deal of detail, necessarily 50 years in the future, but we have a very good system in place for accounting for all the pieces of critical infrastructure in the city and making sure that they don't ever kind of fall off the radar. So, for example, when it's time to paint a water tower, we've already anticipated it. There's no drama associated with it, having worked in another community and having listened to stories from other communities, unfortunately there can be a lot of politics and drama associated with public infrastructure and fortunately in Shoreview we just don't do that. We haven't had to sell projects that way. Their value is mostly self-evident 29 years ago.

Mike Spack:

That's quite a while. Maybe you don't really remember what it was like. I'm curious. When you started a consulting firm in your career, you went to work for one city and then you ended up moving to Shoreview. What was that decision-making process to move to Shoreview? Or was there just you saw an ad in the newspaper and you applied. Was it that simple? Sure.

Mark Maloney:

After I jumped from the private sector into city engineering, I knew I was in the right track. But when I made that decision in 1989, I took the first city job I could get, without really understanding a lot about how things work in the public. And. I found myself quickly at a place that didn't align really well with the way I wanted to do things. It was a very unstable place at City Hall. There was massive change occurring at City Hall and there having a lot of things that were unsettling to me as a person who tends to seek stability. When the Shoreview ad came up and I remember seeing it I had actually known. I'm from the Eastern suburbs in the Twin Cities so I had relatives living in Shoreview. When I was in the private sector I actually did some work in Shoreview. I had a fairly good picture of what I thought the community was about. But to be honest with you, I had no idea how well managed they were going to be for the time that I was there. I just fell into that. I knew that they were a city that had some growth potential and as a consultant I had known that they were generally doing things in a good way. But until you get there and you actually own it and do it, I just didn't know how well they were teed up.

Mike Spack:

I did over the 29 years. So you came into a really high functioning system that was really there in a culture. Did your org chart with your staff of about 30? Did that evolve or was that the system that was there and you were just maintaining it? I'm really curious. They're a handful of ways a public works director can organize the team underneath and just wondering how you went about that and what it looked like for you.

Mark Maloney:

When I was hired, it was made clear to me right away that the city wasn't happy with the relationship between the operational side of the public works department and the administrative or engineering side All one department but being managed almost completely with different philosophies. And so what was really important for me in my early years in this position was to get everyone on the same team, and there were some structural reasons why people felt separated the way that they had compartmentalized and siloed the street division versus the utility division versus the engineering. It wasn't set up at all for a modern approach to asset management, because people weren't sharing information and they were being just managed differently. And so the structural change that I first made when I came there is I took those street and utility divisions, which had been completely separately supervised and managed, and I put them under a single manager, a public works superintendent, and that person then had a consistent sort of approach to managing those two areas of operation. That person also had a different kind of skill set that made them much more compatible with working with the other side of the department, and so the structural change led to really a cultural change in the operations side of our public works department, to the point that I'm really happy to be able to say now. It's just so different than when I got there. There are no barriers or boundaries and there are different cultures. I mean working in operations is a different culture than working in a city hall, office sort of culture, but I believe everyone now understands or kind of working for the same outcome. So there was a structural change that was necessary to kind of that led to that cultural change. And another major change is when I was hired, the director of public works position also was called the city engineer and so I was the head engineer and the head of operations and at a number of years ago I had an assistant city engineer that was really doing the work that should have been recognized as city engineer. And so I split my title and that person received the city engineer title and that is the structure that exists there today separate director of public works. But the city is strong believer in having the director of public works be a engineer, so that is still in the job description. So even though we'll have a separate city engineer, the next director of public works will also have a civil engineering background.

Marc Culver:

Good Good, as we just kind of continuing on the thought about the organizational structure and that I would anticipate that your staff has grown a little bit since you've been there. So what milestones or what triggered you to have to add staff? I mean maybe changes in policy or new initiatives you were taking on over, some of those things that required you to maybe add some staff.

Mark Maloney:

Well, mark, I'm going to throw you a curve here. We're actually smaller than we were in 1994. And I don't say that flippantly. We have repurposed certain positions. So here's an example of a major change in the emphasis in the public works department, in short of you. We have a work group within public works that we've labeled as natural resources, and we had at various times in the past had a city forester. We had people helping manage our curbside recycling program, and we've actually reduced the number of operations, maintenance people very gradually over time and have replaced them with natural resource specialist type positions. So we are 10 years into emerald ash borer, in short of you, and so we have been managing emerald ash borer in our community and that's driven summer seasonal positions as well as full-time positions. We also manage a curbside recycling program, have a number of other environmental initiatives, and so we're technically a little smaller than we were when I got there in 1994. But we are, so we're a little leaner, but I think we have people that are more aligned with the service delivery changes that the community has demanded over the years, and they're good demands. I think that's our job in local government is to figure out what our community needs and is asking for, and figure out how to match that Interesting.

Marc Culver:

You know along that same line. Maybe your staff hasn't changed, but how do you think public works like the industry, or your staff or your job, from a day-to-day basis? How has that evolved over your career?

Mark Maloney:

Wow, there could go a lot of ways with that.

Mike Spack:

You could start with email.

Mark Maloney:

I'll start with something that sounds a little personal, but I do think this is applicable to beyond my situation. I had this idea, even though I had some insight into the civil engineering world as I went into college. I still had this idea that engineering was going to be this process of going into an office, sitting at a desk and working on something a thing, working on a thing the jokes on me because what my career really turned into was building relationships. It's all about building and managing and nurturing relationships. I know that might sound a little sappy, but it's honestly the way that my career went. I think for all public works professionals that are in a comparable context to the one that I've been in whether it's elected officials, whether it's staff, whether it's residents we have to be credible in so many different arenas in terms of our ability to just be part of partnerships. I think that that's a different picture, a different view of the industry than I had when I was very young, because what I believed I was seeing were experts that had titles, that were whatever they said was the final word on something. Can you remember that? I remember when engineers got to say this is the way it's going to be, because this is what the engineering approach says. Well, that didn't happen for me in my career, because the public these days, with the information that's available, whether it's true or not, they feel like they know as much as you do. I'm sure engineering isn't the only field that feels that way. I think that's the one thing that's a lot different in this career path now is that it really is going to boil down to your ability to build healthy relationships and maintain them. You're just not going to be allowed to sit in your office in a silo and just work on a thing, at least in the context of this business that I'm aware of, which is a medium-sized city with a staff of 30 in your public works department, I think it's a really good point.

Marc Culver:

I think it's also a very good point from the perspective of the size of your community, because if you're working for a community that has 300,000 people in it, you probably do have some people that really are in the back cave doing the engineering and some things like that Very specialized. I call it the sweet spot of the community, at least here in Minnesota, that 30,000 to 60,000 people, maybe even closer to 80,000,. Your staff is a lot more generalist, as you were talking about that. It's like a lot of times we're more facilitators than we are engineers.

Mike Spack:

When I started my career at one of the larger consulting firms in town they actually had an in-house Toastmasters Club and all of us young engineers were encouraged to go to the Toastmasters meeting over lunch. I continued that for about five years. We certainly didn't learn that in our civil engineering programs of how to get up and communicate, we think about what our profession really is. There aren't very many people who can just sit at their desk and never talk to people. We often are presenting our ideas and convincing and answering questions, whether private or public. Have you intentionally done anything like a Toastmasters or do you have a rhythm of, hey, I should have lunch with the city administrator once a week? Do you have rhythms, things you've done or does it just come naturally that you're a relationship builder?

Mark Maloney:

Well, I was terrified of writing when I was in college and I talked my undergrad advisor into letting me take public speaking classes and rhetoric as opposed to writing. I had very, very little confidence in my ability to write, and so I was encouraged at a very young age to talk. I mean in a professional context like that and I just I think maybe naturally I'm much more comfortable with verbal communications. I still get rattled, I still need to prepare when I know that I'm going to be in front of a group of people, but it's just always worked out for me. So I know of people that have similar experiences to you and I think that, fairly or unfairly, people in STEM fields or people in engineering get labeled as being good numbers people, but maybe not as good communicators, and I've always pushed back on that. I've always been around people that were good communicators in this field, and so I didn't necessarily understand it that way.

Mike Spack:

Maybe in industry you could find examples of that, but if you're going to work in the public sector, you're going to get exposed really quickly if you can't communicate, and your ability to communicate has certainly led you're talking before we fired up the record button of one of the themes through your career is kind of being a liaison for different transportation research projects and kind of being on the cutting edge, both sure of you pushing that natural inclination. Could you talk a bit about kind of the green, resilient, sustainable, permeable pavement, that evolution you've seen and where you think it's headed next?

Mark Maloney:

Sure. I became aware of those potentials because early in my career I was urged to pay attention to transportation research in Minnesota. We have a almost I want to say it's unique to Minnesota that we have mechanisms in Minnesota where city and county transportation representatives get to influence what gets researched and what gets funded. And that's important because in most states, and a lot of states at least, people that work for cities and counties kind of have to wait to see what gets researched by their state DOTs and then see if any of it applies to what they are working with at the local level. Minnesota has some very specific structures in place to see that cities and county transportation officials are at the table when those decisions are being made, and so I was encouraged to learn about that and find out about that when I was earlier in my career, and so that put me in proximity to people both in industry and in academia that were looking at new technologies, looking at different possible ways of solving infrastructure problems, and I fell in with a group of people that were really interested in the potential of permeable pavement, whether it was porous asphalt, pervious concrete or other concrete block systems, and so I knew about those things and at the same time my real job, my day job, was building and managing infrastructure for the city of Shoreview, and we were dealing with the same things that everyone's words Like how do you deal with the stormwater management component of this road project in a built up community where we don't have room for ponds and we don't have room for all this other infrastructure? And at the same time we were dealing with things like PAH and pond sediment. And so we were becoming aware around the year 2000 that all that NERP era stormwater infrastructure kind of had some consequences that nobody thought of or didn't prepare us for. So we put all those things together and we said is there a better way to sort of skin this cat? Is there a better way to manage stormwater, assuming you've got the right soils for it? And I've always been careful because I have been sort of pegged as the permeable pavement person and so I've always helped people understand that it isn't just something we do to do, it isn't something we do without considering and studying all the alternatives, because we have a lot of alternatives for stormwater management. Sometimes permeable pavement is at the top of the list, other times it's a terrible idea, depending on the underlying soils, and so we picked in. We were very careful in selecting sites in Shoreview, where we had a stormwater management issue associated with a public street retrofit project in a built up environment and the soils were conducive for infiltration. You put all those things together and it, to me, screamed wow, permeable pavement might be the right solution. And so we had our first major splash in 2010 with what was, at the time, globally, the biggest permeable, pervious concrete pavement project globally, and we didn't do it. For that reason, I think, as public infrastructure managers and as people that are being trusted by the public to manage assets and IE their tax dollars, you'd be very careful about labeling something an experiment or a demonstration project. Okay, the research world can do things like that. Public infrastructure managers, no, no, we can't do things like that. So it isn't just that you have to have a good story to go along with it. I mean it helps, but you also have to be able to demonstrate that you're solving a problem. You've analyzed alternatives and this, you know, for a number of reasons, is a reasonable approach, and I had a city council in Shoreview during those years that said good enough for us, go for it. And I say that, fully realizing that that doesn't happen everywhere.

Marc Culver:

What was, as far as you recall anyway, what was the cost difference?

Mark Maloney:

Well, what I do recall is that my city council said how does that compare, cost wise with a traditional approach to solving this problem? And I use that opportunity to illustrate that we have to be to make it an apples to apples discussion. You have to be talking about storm drainage infrastructure together with the pavement infrastructure and, to be really fair, you need to look at it for a life cycle. And so when you did all that, we estimated that it was plus or minus 5%. I say this honestly. There wasn't a lot of data to work with. We invented maintenance protocols associated with permeable pavements as public infrastructure in Shoreview because at the time, if you had Googled it, you would have gotten nothing. You would have got city of Shoreview, and so I mean we had reasonable expectations for how this would work. But some of it we just learned trial and error, and the original cost estimate for the basis for making the decision to use permeable pavements for that first project, I think is still valid. It still holds. You've seen what we predicted in terms of how much you have to sweep it versus what it costs to dredge a pond that has pH sediment in it. I mean, if you really really follow all those threads, you start to make a pretty strong case.

Mike Spack:

How has the maintenance of your permeable pavement evolved? Is it just more street sweeping than a normal impervious pavement?

Mark Maloney:

Some of our original assumptions were based on a very limited amount of information that was available. We assumed I assumed that the major problem for a permeable pavement structure would be inorganic material, loose excavated material, sand, so on and so forth getting in the pore structure and clogging it. Okay, well, maybe in a test cell and a demonstration project in a research site. That might be true In a real world. In a suburb like Shoreview, where you have heavy tree canopy hanging over the roadway, you find out that what's really clogging the pore structure are ground in pine needles and pine cones and acorns and the grass clippings that the neighbors are blowing off their yard into the road. Organic material actually became a bigger issue. We learned that we timed our street sweepings in that particular first project. If there had been a heavy windstorm, we immediately prioritized getting into that neighborhood because we knew there would be a whole lot of organic material on the roadway. Just stuff like that was no documentation for any of that type of protocol.

Marc Culver:

Do you?

Mark Maloney:

still do that. We still do that. We've become a little more again lacking any documented protocols. We just said we're going to go sweep these permeable pavements every month, every six weeks, because it just seems like the right thing to do. This is a good point for me to back up and say Shoreview has always been very aggressive in its street sweeping, regardless of permeable pavements or regular pavements. Shoreview has always had a strong correlation between water quality and street sweeping. We were sweeping all the streets in Shoreview four times a year anyways In 2010, when we were building our first permeable pavement, we said well, we're doing all the streets four times a year, let's do the permeable ones eight times a year. Again, you've got to start somewhere. We learned that we weren't really getting much in some of those sweepings unless they were immediately following a windstorm when a bunch of organic material. We have looked at the amount of materials that have been swept off the permeable pavements. I guess, going back to the beginning of your question, I think the real revelation in maintenance of a permeable pavement, especially in a built up suburban context like Shoreview, is like you're going to be dealing with more organic material than inorganic material.

Marc Culver:

Before we move on from the permeable pavers, maybe spend a little bit of time on, because I know when we were talking about permeable pavers in my city we had concerns about plowing. Our plow blade is going to get hung up on a shifted paver. Then have you had to do any utility work underneath a permeable paver street and how it has that back on as far as restoring it?

Mark Maloney:

The first voorstpping Permable pavement project we did, which was our frankly our largest permeable pavement project, was a little under a mile of streets in a particular neighborhood that were about 25 feet wide. We did it all with pervious concrete. We've had one utility dig in that area since 2010, because at the time we built that road we also replaced all the utilities, which makes sense, yeah, and so we haven't really expected to have to go back, and the soils in that particular neighborhood were also a very, very nice sand, and so we don't have the movement in the ductile iron water that normally drives the water main brakes, and so we haven't really had much experience going back and digging any of these areas. When we moved away from pervious concrete to these interlocking block systems for our permeable pavement solution, we did clip a few blocks, but we do plow all these permeable pavement areas in Shoreview and there's about a dozen different ones in the community now we do them all with one ton pickups, so we're not out there with a tandem. We're not out there with a single axle dump with a lot of weight and down pressure. We're using essentially the same snow plow equipment we use in our cul-de-sacs, but even still we have clipped a couple of blocks, we've popped a few, considering how many of them are out there. We haven't really seen that much plow damage. If the materials are toleranced. And this is one of the other things we learned with these interlocking concrete block systems is that the rock filter layer underneath the block has to be toleranced very tight, otherwise you get a very uneven surface at the surface for the permeable blocks, and so we learned to really really require our contractors to tolerance that rock layer very closely, and so we don't have a lot of unevenness in our blocks, but things do move. I mean, I think the first one of those types of block system pavements we placed in Shoreview was in 2014. So we are on eighth or ninth winter with that, and I can honestly say the number of blocks that have had to be replaced or fixed is 1% or less.

Marc Culver:

Good hey everyone. I just want to take a quick moment to thank our sponsor, bolton Mink, who is producing and editing our podcast.

Bolton & Menk:

At Bolton Mink, we believe all people should live in a safe, sustainable and beautiful community. We promise every client two things We'll work hard for you and we'll do a good job. We take a personal interest in the work being done around us and, at the end of the day, we're real people offering real solutions.

Mike Spack:

Over such a staying 29 years in one community. One thing we're hoping to do with the podcast is share, so folks can broaden their perspective. How have you been able to keep up with changing trends and keep up with your professional development, and has that changed? Is it easier now with the internet, or is there too much information out there now?

Mark Maloney:

So earlier in my career I really was on this track for transportation research, and then towards the end of my career I became more of a water policy person, and I'm not exactly sure that I can explain how that happened.

Marc Culver:

Some outside forces helped with that too, I think.

Mark Maloney:

I think that we were talking about this earlier that people in this field tend to be generalists, and that is a challenge. In that there's so much information in so many different service areas and so many different types of infrastructure, it can be really hard to feel like you're competent in all these areas. Whether or not there's too much information, I don't know, but I know this. I was always motivated to stay ahead of my constituency. I was always motivated to at least be in a position to be able to have an intelligent dialogue with a resident who had been on the internet all night before studying, traffic calming or whatever the topic is, and so I've had a little bit of an internal drive that's made me never want to appear to be at a loss. When you work in local government, sometimes your job looks like you're in a public meeting in front of a city council and someone shows up at a microphone and starts asking questions, and your council looks at you and says, well, what do you think? And so I've never liked to appear to be unprepared, and so I think you just have to get comfortable with being agile in terms of jumping around. That's what a city public works director position looks like. You don't get to really be an expert for very long in one area before you're being pulled into another area, and I would argue that it might be easier these days. I think there's more resources available to help you do that. But also I think when I got into this profession it was probably more normal for people to be an expert in one area than it is now. We've really been forced to be much more generalized.

Mike Spack:

Have you developed any kind of talking points in your mind around kind of the consistent themes that come up from residents at either a public hearing or at a council meeting?

Mark Maloney:

Well, I'll try to keep this positive. But people don't hold government in high regard and sometimes you realize that someone is saying things to you or making inferences or assumptions based on something that has absolutely nothing to do with you or the services you provide. This is a point that I coach and mentor on with people in my organization. It's the new way of thinking of it's not about you. So a lot of our customers that might be, and it also is indicative of the fact that most of the customer contact we'll have in public works tends to be reactionary, tends to be people that are contacting us or reaching out because they don't understand something or something doesn't work or something is broken and there could be a lot of emotion attached to it, and so we work with newer employees to help them, especially if they're new to government, to help them understand that don't immediately dig in and stake out positions in these sorts of relationships. You have to understand a little bit that that person has got sewage coming up in their basement, okay, and they're really freaking out about that and it's not about you. The tone of their voice might not have anything to do with you on the other end of the phone or the email, and so that's been a challenge in this career path to kind of remember that your job is there to help people. Your job is there to explain things to people, to get them the services that sometimes they don't even know that they're services that they're getting. Your job is to make sure that they just get these things and don't have to worry too much about it, and in that it's been hard to deal with just this mistrust and the lack of civility that can be in government these days. People take what they're hearing at a national level or a state level and they try, and then it manifests itself as a calling city hall and screaming at somebody. I'm trying not to scare people away from this career path, because that isn't the majority of how you spend your time in this job. The majority of your time spent in this job is doing things that really matter to people and are really important to their quality of life, whether they give you credit for it or not. We're not in this to get credit. It's just that and I'm saying these things coming from a community that, I think I said earlier, has this reputation of civility and decorum Our council meetings are generally very, very professional, but below the surface, in the day-to-day operations, we deal with a lot of excited people.

Marc Culver:

Like you said, a lot of times people are calling you because they are having the worst day of their life for some reason or another, or a really, really bad day, and you have to deal with that and you have to help them but also try to console them in a lot of cases. But I think you made a point that we get a lot of people, that we get a lot of negative feedback in this profession about things that don't go right or how somebody doesn't like something. But I would say maybe one out of 20, one out of 30, I don't know what the right number is but every once in a while you get that one person that calls you and says you know what you guys are doing such a great job. Thank you for everything you've done. Or you do help somebody through that really bad day. The sewage is backed up in their house or they don't have water or what have you, and you help them through that and they are so grateful and, like you, know if that's worth 50 or 100 bad ones. You know, getting that and knowing that you helped that person through that, yeah, so yeah, and you know how we get our affirmation for our career choices.

Mark Maloney:

You know is going to look different depending on what we do, but I'm at this stage because I've worked in one city for 29 years. I know a lot of people and I've touched, I've been involved with a lot of people's lives through all these street reconstruction projects, and the community that I work for has had a process that just ended last year where we were going through every neighborhood in the city and rebuilding all the public infrastructure to bring it up to modern standards and that's unsettling to people. You're messing with their lives, you're ripping up their roads I mean they were going to have their grad party that day or whatever. I mean you get up close and personal with people and so over the years I could probably go in every neighborhood in Charview and name names of people that I remember having you know to work with very personally. And I now have this blessing, near the end of my career in Charview, of actually hearing from some of these people. As they've kind of found out, I'm leaving the city and it's a whole different conversation we're having now, once you get the emotion and the dust and the water being shut off in opportune time or all those inconveniences that come from a street reconstruction project. Once you get that behind you and you find out that these are people and I've actually get people that tell me they appreciate what I've done there and I didn't expect to hear those sorts of things, but, yeah, it's putting a nice bow on it, for me.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, no, I had a similar experience. I had been in Roseville for almost, you know, about nine years and there were a couple of people that I always tended to be at odds with, you know, about various issues.

Mark Maloney:

Only a couple.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yeah, you know a couple in particular and there was one person in particular and I won't name names, but he came up to me at a council meeting it was like my last council meeting and he just said, hey, you know, I know we haven't always agreed, but I really appreciate how you, you know, dealt with the issues and talked me through it and, you know, defend your position and I thought you did a really good job. So thank you. And I had a council member she wasn't on the council anymore, but kind of the same sentiment. We kind of went. She would call, we would spend 40 minutes on the phone talking about various things and some things we saw eyes with, sometimes some things we didn't. And again she just said that you know, she appreciated, you know how we defended my position and my expertise and things like that, even though she didn't always agree with me. So that does I can. You know it feels good that you've done well and you've done your job well. And on that point, you know, mark, you know, beyond just the city of Shoreview, you are very well respected in this industry. I mean, you were the 2009 city engineer association engineer of the year. You were the 2018 Hugo G Erickson award winner for APWA Minnesota. You've been very involved at the legislative level. You know with the League of Minnesota Cities. You've been on the legislative policy committee. Talk about all of that work outside of Shoreview. You know with the associations and why you did it and what you got out of it.

Mark Maloney:

Well, humor me. So my old boss, the person who hired me at Shoreview, who, was a city manager. I didn't realize it at the time, but his father had been an APWA top 10 leader in the state of Wisconsin. His father was a public works director. So I had a boss that had a built-in appreciation for not just public infrastructure in general but the idea that you need to be out there, you need to be part of the community and you need to be part of the bigger community in your industry. And so I was really supported in all the professional organization involvement. My boss knew that it would return value to the city of Shoreview for me to be involved in those areas and I really tried to stay true to that. Besides just being a cheerleader in those forums for the city of Shoreview, I also learned, and I learned about other people's organizations and how they solved problems, and that was always a big motivator for me. My wiring has always been let's leave this place better than you found it, let's improve, and you do that by being parts of those communities and being in those circles and learning how other people solve problems, and some of it applies to your situation, some doesn't. I've always wanted to advocate for the public works industry. I think we're too okay with the idea that if people don't know what we're doing. That's okay, because then we don't have to talk to them and we don't have to explain things. Well, that's okay to a point. But when you sit in a budget meeting with an elected body and you see how they're treating these other areas of public service that have really strong advocacy let's just say public safety and you see that they automatically rise to the top, you realize that you're doing this industry a disservice if you're not out there trying to help people understand its value. And I understood that at a young age, and so that steered me into both legislative advocacy as well as advocacy with the professional organizations, and that this industry is important enough to people's quality of life that it should be understood and it should be discussed, at least not forgotten about. And so I think that was my big motivator for being involved. I had a strange fascination with the legislative process. That was the words of my old boss. He said I don't understand why you want to go to the Capitol and why you want to. He's like that's crazy and I said, well, somebody needs to be doing this and we will be forgotten about. There's always another side, and whether we're pushing for something or someone else is pushing for something, you have to be there and your industry has to be represented, and those viewpoints need to be on the record. And you don't always win, but sometimes you're just playing defense and keeping something bad from happening. You don't get any credit for these things, but sometimes that's. The role of our industry is to just be the voice of reason in the room or the people that are reminding that there could be some unintended consequences of this piece of legislation that you're considering. And so I did enjoy that.

Marc Culver:

I really enjoyed banging your head up against the brick wall.

Mark Maloney:

The you know, seeing the sausage being made or whatever. You know it can be a really painful process to try to watch how laws are made and things are debated in the legislature. But I really believe strongly that our industry needs to be there.

Marc Culver:

Did you have a relationship with your local senator and state representative, intentionally or not?

Mark Maloney:

Not as much as I've came to realize. Other public works and city engineers did they. We didn't, for example. So we worked with a state senator that represented Shorview on a quiet zone, a railway quiet zone initiative that was through our community.

Marc Culver:

But my and successful at that, and it was exactly was successful.

Mark Maloney:

I don't know this is something to break about, but it's part of the character and the DNA of the city of Shorview to be this very self-sufficient community, you know, never got. Lga always just was able to manage its own responsibilities internally, and so we never really got accomplished at playing the game of going to the legislature and requesting funding for things. It just wasn't in the DNA of the city and so and I think sometimes that drives those relationships with your local legislators we didn't have a reason to know them really all that well. They, yeah, we would hold meetings. The local legislature, the state senators and state reps would meet with our city council once a year, kind of have some face time. These are the things we're working on. Here's who we are, and then that was mostly the extent of it. Yeah.

Mike Spack:

So it sounds like that might be one thing. You could rewind the clock. You may have done a little bit more outreach. Are there other things that come to mind of this point in your career Like, okay, my life would have, I could have avoided these couple of bumps in the road if I would have done this differently?

Mark Maloney:

to kind of pass that knowledge along I feel generally really good about the outcomes in Shoreview, from the things that I held my ground on or the things that I really burned chips on, but I would say that there are probably ways to have gone about it. That would have been a little more consensus building in the community. I came up in this business especially in the areas of traffic management and traffic control and safety related topics associated with that. I came up in this business with a very black and white idea of what that means. A community I worked for before Shoreview had some unfortunate incident regarding pedestrian incident that ended up in a fatality, and I cut my teeth on that experience of how a city should be acting with regard to signage and traffic control, and so I had a very strong opinion going into my time in Shoreview about how traffic topics should be managed, and Shoreview is a little unusual for a city of its size in that we don't have a police department. Shoreview contracts for its law enforcement with the county sheriff and so we don't have some of the mechanisms in the community at City Hall that other communities might for how traffic complaints get processed and, for better or for worse, in Shoreview they just land on the director of Public Works Desk and I did my best with that and I generally feel pretty good about the outcomes. But I probably could have been a little more invested in building a better consensus building model for how those decisions were made. It's just a really long way of me saying I made the decision and we went with it. But, I didn't necessarily shop it around and see how it played in other places.

Marc Culver:

You know, I think that's a lesson that our whole industry is learning, as we focus more on engagement and how to be better at engagement. And you know to your point consensus building, and you know it's always hard. We plan so far ahead for certain improvements and things like that. Like the decisions are made early. So how do we, when it's time to actually do this project, how do we engage the public on those decisions without making it sound like we already made up our mind, you know? But that is, I mean, that's part of what we're learning. It's a new skill that we need to learn as professionals. Is that consensus building, that engagement and things like that?

Mark Maloney:

Well, you've got to hold another topic for a different podcast right there with engagement. Definitely we as licensed engineers, as public officials, we still have an obligation to the public to be, to hold our ground on certain things, and I think it behooves us to know what those things are. I worked in an environment for the last three decades that respected that and said, yeah, we're not going to have a political solution to a infrastructure problem or an infrastructure topic. I know that doesn't always come across that way in other communities. There are I've known enough people over the years to know that you know, and it's heartbreaking that their technical opinion, their technical expertise, is not highly regarded.

Mike Spack:

Right, yeah, and I think part of that growing. I still remember vividly I was a young engineer working at a city traffic engineer and I was politely told we're going to put in all-way stops at an intersection and I pulled out the manual on uniform traffic control devices and said no way does this fit the criteria for all-way stop signs. And we're. No, we can't do this. I'm a licensed engineer, I know, I know. And then it turns out one of the council members, kat, was killed by a car and this was the response and basically this isn't worth the chips that sometimes you have to bend a little bit because there are going to be bigger topics we're going to need that council member support on and that's. You know that those are the nuances in the relationship building and knowing when to bend, versus hold the line that we get no education in.

Mark Maloney:

Well, and one to that point, I've coached people to remind them that in the public sector, our job ultimately is to help elected officials make informed decisions. It's not to make their decision for them. And there's only so much you can do. And you know there are going to be times where they say thank you for your professional opinion, but we're taking these other things under advisement and we're going to do this and you have to be. You have to understand that that's not a personal thing. You know that you did your job. You helped them make an informed decision. Maybe they just didn't agree with you and I know that's hard because we all have egos and we're all trained.

Mike Spack:

Very hard.

Mark Maloney:

We're all trained to think we're experts and in some ways we are. But there will come time in just about every city engineer or public works director's job, where they hear that. They hear that. I heard it. Thank you for your opinion, but we're just going to go another way and you go. Okay. Well, I did my job and sometimes that's all you can do.

Marc Culver:

Well, you did do your job, Mark, and thank you. And you know, as a, when I was promoted to public works director at Roseville, I felt good having such a seasoned professional and somebody so well respected and that just to the north of me that I could lean on if need be. So thank you for that too. As we, you know, shift gears. Here we a couple of questions that we like to, or topics we like to talk to all our guests about, is technology and in your career and your time, how have you seen technology? We'll start with the bad side. Where have you seen technology fail? Like you know, you tried something new or something was coming up and you just, it just didn't work.

Mark Maloney:

Well, the thing that comes to mind is asset management systems. If I had a nickel for every cold call I've gotten in my career for someone who said I have the perfect asset management solution for you. And they say that without and I'm not trying to denigrate the industry, but they'll say that without understanding anything about the types of infrastructure we're managing or what our current technologies are. And I won't say I'm expert on this, but I have studied it enough to know that I don't believe there really is a single asset management platform that solves all of your asset management issues. When you think of a full service city like the city of Shoreview, where we are involved in drinking water infrastructure, sanitary sewer infrastructure, storm drainage infrastructure, pavement management programs, forestry, inventories, fleet management yeah, I could just keep going. There isn't going to be one platform that just solves all the and generates work orders and tracks people's time. Those all end up being separate modules. It would be wonderful if there was, and maybe the industry can get moving on this, but I don't know necessarily that anyone's really even asking for it, and so I've stumbled around with different asset management platforms and approaches and I still haven't figured it out. We have a. Shoreview has probably a lot of cities, a number of different technologies operating side by side for asset management, and everything from spreadsheets and file cabinets to highly evolved third party softwares that track and manage our pavement data. I think it's just going to be part of your job, is that you're going to have to juggle all those things?

Marc Culver:

So on the flip side of that, where have you seen technology just really do well, like astound you or just really change how things are done at the city of Shoreview?

Mark Maloney:

One thing that has just really expedited a lot of the incoming calls that we get in at Shoreview is just GIS and mapping the fact that I can just with three clicks, all of a sudden, be looking at someone's property, all the buried infrastructure that's around them, recent aerial photography overlaid on it, landlines from the county property database, tax information, who's paying the taxes all that stuff is literally a couple of clicks. While I'm sitting at my desk as I'm talking to somebody, I used to have to say I'll call you back, and I would literally have to move around the building into a number of places to compile all that information. So that has been a huge thing in recent years. For me, it's just the ability to have that. And then another kind of a revelation, for we assume, as engineers and public asset managers, that every phone call we get is going to require some deep, deep dive into detailed information and they're going to need to know the history of when it was built and what the material type was, and a lot of times it's not that complicated. A lot of times the question is just simply can somebody come out here and turn off my water shut off or something, and so your job is to get that information to your utility crew. I mean, I love it when people want all the detailed information because I live there, but the truth is just having that sort of high level information GIS information available at in a few clicks has just really been immensely helpful.

Mike Spack:

I think that's a great place to end our conversation. Mark, this has been phenomenal and yeah, yeah.

Marc Culver:

Again, mark, congratulations on a great career. Thank you for your public service, all the time you've spent out council meetings and neighborhood meetings, and it's going to be set at the retirement parties and everything else like that. But your family too, for their sacrifice, for your time. But thank you, and thank you for everything you've taught young. I used to be young. I remember. When I was a young engineer. Thank you for me and everybody else that was fortunate enough to learn lessons from you as well. Thank you.

Mark Maloney:

Wow, it's been a pleasure. It's odd thinking about myself in the past tense. I still have a little bit of time till I'm officially retired. But yeah, I used to be the young guy in the room. I came into this industry keeping my mouth shut and just listening to all those people, all those big name people that were so well established in this career, and at some point I became one of them. I don't remember when that happened.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, but when did the switch flip on that? Yeah between young and old, right yeah.

Mark Maloney:

And it's also just. I just feel compelled to share that I've had this great blessing of working in a very, very supportive place for a long time. That encouraged me to be out and about and learn and share, and I owe a lot of the good feeling I have about my career I owe to my employer. They made that happen for me.

Marc Culver:

Great, great, all right, well, thank you.

Mike Spack:

Thank you.

Mark Maloney's Career in Public Works
Importance of Communication in Public Works
Permeable Pavement and Stormwater Management
Challenges and Rewards in Public Works
Public Works Advocacy and Involvement
Career Lessons and Technology Failures
Asset Management Platforms and Technological Advancements
Reflections on Aging and Career Growth