Living a Lifetime of Public Service

Jack Friedline's public sector career includes serving as commissioner of public works for the city of Buffalo, N.Y., deputy public works director for the city of Phoenix, Ariz., solid wastes and facilities director in Mesa, Ariz., and most recently its public works manager. Jack is well-known throughout the solid waste industry and has been an active member of the Solid Waste Association of NorthAmerica, where he currently serves on its executive committee.

Waste Age spoke with Friedline recently to find out how his more than 25 years of industry experience have given him the knowledge and vision to manage his city's public works operations.

WA: Prior to your recent appointment as public works manager for the city of Mesa, Ariz., you were in charge of the city's solid waste management division. Describe how your previous job experience has helped you to become capable in your new position.

JF: Solid waste management continues to be one of my major responsibilities, which therefore helps to familiarize me with this department as a whole. One of the other advantages is the competitive-team atmosphere that prevails in our city's Solid Waste Management and Facilities division. As we continue to look for ways to maximize customer satisfaction and minimize budget allocations, a concentrated effort to become more competitive and team-oriented will be a major goal.

WA: How has your new position changed your outlook toward managing your city's solid waste?

JF: My outlook has become less micro and more macro. I have excellent staff members who are operating our Solid Waste Management division and implementing a long-term strategic plan developed through a division-wide participation process. This plan will pave the way to the future and keep us focused on long-term success. I have become more of an advisor and facilitator on the challenges that face our new solid waste director and her staff. My goals will be directed at the strategic level such as long-term disposal and materials recovery facilities (MRF) contracts, and helping to guide us through change.

WA: Speaking of a long-term strategic plan, how are solid waste managers in the public sector preparing to meet the challenges of the next century?

JF: Managers are becoming team builders and facilitators. They are networking more through professional organizations such as the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md., to build expertise and develop programs that will enhance customer satisfaction and efficient service.

WA: What are the primary issues affecting all solid waste managers' jobs today?

JF: Besides the usual suspects, environmental regulations/legislation, cost control mechanisms, equipment and personnel, to name a few, I think what strikes me is the need to get our arms around all the change that has happened to our industry since the mid-1980s.

With the acceptance of recycling and green waste programs, household hazardous waste (HHW) and regional landfilling, etc., managers will be challenged to review all of their programs with the focus on quality and program maintenance. They will need to make improvements to ensure that customers understand and support their programs.

Managers will need to develop solid strategic plans, if they are not already in place, to ensure that they will fulfill their long-term mission.

WA: You mentioned networking through organizations such as SWANA. I know you're active in many areas of our industry outside of your job. What are the benefits?

JF: I have been a member of SWANA for many years, and I currently serve on the executive committee and, as often as possible, assist in training workshops. The benefits are many. I find the camaraderie with fellow professionals and the contributions of time and effort to help others rewarding.

For example, I often run into fellow professionals that may have been part of a training seminar or interactive workshop many years ago and find they have successfully climbed the ladder of success and now they spend time sharing their expertise with others. It's a wonderful feeling to help others personally and in their organizations. I always have grown in some way through my interactions.

WA: Which individuals, programs or organizations have affected you the most over your career?

JF: Many professional organizations have grounded me over the years such as SWANA and the American Public Works Association (APWA), Kansas City, Mo., and I have had supporters throughout my career as many of us had. But the individual who has most affected me in my career and my life is my father. He taught me the fundamentals of life.

WA: Looking at the recent industry consolidations and going forward, how are private sector mergers affecting the management of your city's solid waste?

JF: I believe we have kept a competitive spirit before and during the consolidations. We always try to keep up with the private sector changes. In the commercial waste sector, we compete to a high degree. We also have a good rapport with many of the private sector companies in our area because we understand that we are fellow professionals addressing an important service in our community.

WA: Are you saying that the goals of the public and private sector are the same to serve their communities?

JF: I certainly believe this, and I find that many private sector professionals agree. More collaborative efforts in the future will help us as a profession to better serve our communities and country.

WA: In what important ways will the solid waste industry be different 10 years from now?

JF: I believe the industry will be more "information driven." Information technology that includes satellite positions, computerized routing and billing, production analysis, etc., will allow everyone from drivers to managers to enhance their performance by "working smarter."

Technologies such as global positioning systems and computerized billing systems already are in the industry, but they will become the basis for more sophisticated, reliable information tools that will allow us to price our services appropriately, and thus enhance service and productivity.

WA: Looking back, what mistakes have you made that you've learned the most from?

JF: In earlier years, my approach with reference to contracting such as MRFs and landfilling services was more competitive, and to some degree confrontational. I have learned over the years that the best contract is the simplest one in which everyone can feel as if they are part of a team effort and everyone is benefiting from the relationship.

WA: If you could create a perfect solid waste world, what would it be?

JF: This world would empower all of us to exercise the right choices as close to the source of potential waste as possible. We all would be personally responsible for the products we produce and use. Many years ago people appreciated the need to conserve, reuse and recycle.

The future should pave the way to enable us again to preserve all that is important to us and our future generations.