Small town – big accomplishment

By Peter Stephenson, VRSA Local Government Specialist 

On June 27, 2019, the Town of Woodstock in Shenandoah County became the smallest locality in the Commonwealth of Virginia to earn full accreditation from the American Public Works Association (APWA).  This distinction was previously held by the Town of Smithfield in Isle of Wight County.  Other APWA Accredited Agencies in Virginia include: Alexandria, Chesapeake, Fairfax County, Newport News, Prince William County, Richmond, and Virginia Beach.  There are now more than 100 such accredited agencies nationwide.

Town of Woodstock receives APWA Accreditation

A definition of ‘Accreditation’ is the action or process of officially recognizing someone (or an organization) as having a particular status or being qualified to perform a particular action.

I believe that professional organizational standards are a predictor of commitment and success.  The accreditation and re-accreditation process also lends to desired transparency with the public we serve – here are our standards, here’s what we say we are going to do, and then, with open books for peers to examine, here is how we did it – all displaying public trust.

According to the American Public Works Association the purpose of the accreditation program is to provide a means of formally verifying and recognizing public works agencies for compliance with the recommended practices set forth in the Public Works Management Practices Manual. The program is voluntary and self-motivational.  It begins with a ‘Self-Assessment’ prior to making an all-in commitment to pursue formal accreditation.

This honest, introspective examination of the current state of affairs can prove to be difficult as your team looks into the mirror.  However, it is a process for improvement and effectiveness.  It promotes teamwork and staff development, enhances communication, and assists in identifying operations and maintenance needs which are critical for budgeting; all in preparation to make the decision whether to embark on the formal accreditation program.  Even if your agency chooses not to pursue it, the reflective self-assessment process is quite valuable and worth the time and effort.

The objectives of the APWA Accreditation program are to:

  • Create impetus for organization self-improvement and stimulate general raising of standards;
  • Offer a voluntary evaluation and education program rather than government regulated activity;
  • Recognize good performance and provide motivation to maintain and improve performance;
  • Improve public works performance and the provision of services;
  • Increase professionalism; and
  • Instill pride among agency staff, elected officials, and the local community.

The Town of Woodstock was found to be fully compliant in 418 out of 420 applicable standards, with the other two in substantial compliance.  Also of particular note, as shared with me by Town Manager Angela Clem, the objective assessment team identified three model practices that the town had adopted and implemented:

  • 2.10: Human Resources Management/Licensed, Register of Certified Employees;
  • 2.12: Human Resources Management/Training Goals; and
  • 26.1: Snow and Ice Control/Plan.

These are the gems that the APWA evaluators look for that set your agency apart, and are worthy of sharing with other agencies above and beyond the standard practices set forth in the manual.

Among the town staff, Accreditation Manager Lori Coffey and Superintendent of Public Works James Didawick worked diligently with the rest of the team to make this a reality.

“The awarding of the APWA Accreditation reflects the dedication from all the staff toward continued improvement and excellence in departmental operations,” said Coffey. “We are extremely proud to receive this honor.  The stars of this prestigious award are the public works staff whose mission is to provide services and programs that contribute to making Woodstock a great place to live and work.”

Woodstock Superintendent of Public Works James Didawick with the town’s accreditation plaque

Shortly after this accreditation announcement was made, the Town of Woodstock hosted one of VRSA’s risk management leadership blueprint lunch and learn training sessions.  I can tell you first hand that the pride was evident and that the town is in great hands.

I also know from my personal experience in Smithfield’s APWA Accreditation and subsequent work toward reaccreditation which happened last fall, several months after my retirement as town manager, that it takes a true team effort, especially when most of the staff wear many hats and already have a full plate in front of them.

As stated by Town Manager Angela Clem, “Accreditation is a tremendous commitment by our entire organization and is a testament to years of planning and concentration on best practices in the Public Works field.”

Please join me in offering the Town of Woodstock a sincere congratulations on this big accomplishment!  A formal presentation from APWA to their town council is planned in the near future.