A meeting where members of the public were able to ask questions of the three candidates for the position of director of the Columbia Department of Public Works was held on Thursday.
A September 8 press release announced that the three finalists chosen as nominees for the director position were Eric H. Stevens, Martin Gugel, and Shane Creech.
The position includes managing the design, construction, operation and maintenance of Columbia’s streets, bridges, sidewalks and parking infrastructure, as well as public transit.
The successful candidate is to replace Dave Nichols, who retired in October 2021, and each candidate has significant civil engineering experience. City Manager De’Carlon Seewood said the decision would likely be made by October 1.
The meet and greet was organized to give members of the public the opportunity to speak with the contestants and leave their thoughts in a comment box. Seewood plans to use the meet and greet format to fill other public positions in the city.
Creech has accumulated over 22 years of civil engineering experience, beginning with his work at a consulting firm in Kansas City and then working as an engineer for the city of Overland Park, Kansas. He then became director of design and construction at Boone County Public Works, where he has worked for more than 14 years, according to the City of Columbia press release.
Having worked for the City of Columbia for many years, Creech said he has a good understanding of the needs of the community and the public works department.
“I know where we need more funding, where maybe we need more staff in a particular location, or how we can do better,” Creech said.
Creech also hopes to focus on communicating and educating the public about what public works does and why.
“We need to do a better job of educating the public,” Creech said, “whether it’s kids in elementary school, little kids we see when we’re doing a road project, give them a sticker, they’re still interested in the big machine but also just the general public on why we do a project, what’s going on, and we need someone with a more academic background to help us fill this gap.
Eric H. Stevens
According to the press release, Stevens has more than 25 years of experience in public works, having previously worked as a consulting engineer in the private sector as well as a mid-level manager with the US Army Corps of Engineers.
“This is a great opportunity to really provide leadership and help take Columbia to the next level,” Stevens said. “Right now, Columbia has a great community with lots of opportunities, lots of potential, and I’m really that candidate who has deep and broad experience.”
Stevens has a background in environmental civil engineering and a doctorate in law, which he says helped broaden his outlook.
If given the job, Stevens said he hopes to develop strong relationships with key community stakeholders as well as the public.
For the past seven years, Gugel served as assistant director of public works in Springfield, Missouri, as well as 25 years previously spent working for state and private consultants. He has gained experience in the type of planning, organizing and leading the development of projects in public works, according to the press release.
Gugel has visited Columbia several times and said he always observes the change and growth of the community.
“Looking at the city’s strategic plan, their overall plan, everything that Columbia is trying to do or has done and trying to improve was just exciting,” Gugel said. “It’s a growing community, there’s a lot of good things happening and I think it would be exciting to be a part of it.”
Gugel hopes to use the experience he gained outside of Columbia to act as an “outside eye” to assess and find ways to improve things in the city.
“There’s an opportunity to take my experience and apply it to a great place like Columbia,” Gugel said.