Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, May 7, 2012

Government innovation awards to be given today

Innovations in Milwaukee's sewerage district, a project to divert thousands of tons of street sweeping from landfills, and a novel adaptation of trucks to save labor and equipment in leaf collection have won Lloyd D. Gladfelter Awards for government innovation. The three winners will be honored in a ceremony at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 7, in the Senate Parlor in the State Capitol.

The competition, administered by the La Follette School of Public Affairs, recognizes problem-solving and resourceful ideas generated by government employees.

"These are the kinds of creative ideas and money-saving efficiencies that people expect from government at all levels," says director Tom DeLeire, director of the La Follette School and member of the awards committee. "The Gladfelter Awards honor that inventive spirit."

A $5,000 award went to Kevin Shafer, executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, for a career of innovations aimed at implementing "green infrastructure" to minimize pollution of the Milwaukee regional waterways.

The award committee was struck by Shafer's career of work at MMSD, especially since taking over as executive director in 2002. Perhaps the most significant MMSD green infrastructure project initiated through his leadership is the Greenseams® Program under which land located adjacent to area waterways is preserved under permanent conservation easements.

This preservation achieves the purpose of making the land available to store storm water (preventing downstream flooding) while also preventing much of the pollutant load in that stormwater from entering the waterways and allowing natural processes to take place. Because these lands will remain undeveloped, they are available for wildlife habitat and recreation. In addition, air quality benefits result from the natural state of the properties.

Christine Lilek, a Department of Natural Resources hydrogeologist, found a way to re-use street sweepings and storm drain sediments that would normally go to landfills. Working with state, county and local municipal contacts, she was able to organize a low hazard exemption project that sorts and screens solids for road or building construction fill, utility trench backfill, pipe bedding, and aggregate in asphalt paving mixes.

Her innovative thinking and coordination, which earned her an award of $2,500, will continue to save participants in the program hundreds of thousands of dollars just in disposal fees. The city of Wausau realized almost $90,000 savings in the first year.

Mark Van Oss, a mechanic in the village of Kimberly for almost 30 years, won $1,000. Van Oss designed and fabricated a one-person leaf collection vehicle out of a 1978 village fire truck.

This unit allows one person, the driver, to collect leaves from both the street and terrace by operating a vacuum hose, mounted on a mechanical arm, from inside the cab. Leaves are then blown into the larger leave collection box. This operation eliminates the need for extra personnel to rake the leaves into the street, saving on labor cost and reducing safety issues with employees working in the right of way.

"The implementation of this unit has made a significant increase in the efficiency of leaf collection, given a significant savings in labor costs, and has provided a safe and more effective method to the collection process … the result of the ingenuity, creativity, and dedication of village employee Mark Van Oss," according to his nomination.

The three winners will be honored in a ceremony at 2 p.m. today, May 7, in the Senate Parlor in the State Capitol during Public Service Recognition Week, a time set aside nationally to honor men and women who work as federal, state, county and local government employees. Sen. Fred Risser, the longest serving state legislator in American political history, will speak.

Established with a gift from Lloyd D. Gladfelter through the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and the UW Foundation, the Gladfelter Awards are given annually.

Gladfelter spent his career as a government reporter for the Milwaukee Journal. He created this award to honor the public employee or employees (excluding elected officials) whose innovations led significantly to the improvement of federal, state, county, or municipal public services in the state of Wisconsin. Nominations were judged on their creativity, feasibility, and potential impact.