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Unsung Heroes of the Washington Public Works Community: The APWA Contract Administration Subcommittee (CASC)

As I stated in an earlier blog post, I am quite "plugged in" to the greater Washington State public works community. I’ve had many opportunities over the years to see and to experience the dedication and—well, the devotion—of public works professionals to their craft. They truly do go beyond and above the call of duty and their paychecks. In this ongoing, but intermittent, series of blog entries over the next few months, I hope to recognize groups and individuals in the public works community deserving of recognition.

In this blog, I want to recognize the contribution and dedication of the Washington State Chapter of the American Public Works Association (APWA) Contract Administration Subcommittee (CASC). Talk about a grass-roots, seeing a need and filling it kind of story. It’s also about personal growth in individuals who truly are unsung heroes—those folks who do the contract administration paper work in managing public works contracts.

In 2001, MRSC (me) responded to a request from Pam Miler and Toni Lyon of Auburn to provide them and other contract administrators in surrounding communities with training on basic public works contracting statutes and issues. Over 50 people attended and expressed a real need and desire for more training on these subjects and backed up that desire by forming an ad-hoc committee to organize workshops. Over the next year, this committee met several times and laid the groundwork for its future success. In early 2002, the APWA Chapter’s Board of Directors formally recognized the Contract Administration Subcommittee (CASC).

The CASC mission statement is:
To provide an educational program that is responsive to the needs of public works contracting personnel, and to encourage professional growth, networking, and statewide uniformity of contract administration in order to efficiently serve the public.

To encourage and facilitate professional and personal growth, CASC established a certificate program that recognizes workshop attendees with 30+ hours of workshop attendance. To date, 199 certificates have been awarded, and at least one larger agency recognizes the CASC certificate as a desirable qualification in its contract administrator job descriptions. Some regular attendees have upwards of 150 workshop hours.

Another hallmark of CASC workshops—and a tribute to the public works community—is that they are free. Speakers, both public agency and private, donate their time. Host agencies provide their facilities free of charge. These agencies, MRSC and APWA, all provide handouts and coffee service and help with speaker expenses as needed. (CASC also co-sponsors pre-APWA conferences which, of necessity, have fees.)

Since CASC’s inception in 2002, CASC, APWA, and MRSC have co-sponsored 145 individual workshops with over 7500 in attendance, representing over 30,000 hours of classroom time. Initially, workshops were held at one rotating venue in the central Puget Sound area. Currently, workshops take place four times a year in four venues: Camas, Renton, Everett, and Yakima, with over 200 attendees among the four venues.

Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, here is the rest of the story. Keep in mind that the original committee members and the majority of current members are contract administrators, those (essential) folks who sometimes have the unenviable task of implementing a construction contract and are often thrust into these positions with little or no public agency construction experience. Over the past ten years, I have witnessed astounding examples of personal and professional growth in committee members and attendees. But don’t take my word for it. Here is what they say:

Sherry Arciniega, Senior Contract Administrator, Port of Seattle

Sometimes you have to take a different path in order to realize that you were right where you were supposed to be. In the fall of 1999, while working for a small underground utility contractor, I returned to college as a mature student with the intent of pursuing a degree in occupational therapy. Though I was fascinated with anatomy and enjoyed learning how our bodies work, the death of my grandmother put that dream to rest. Too emotional to continue in the field of medicine, I quickly changed my education goals and found myself working a temporary job with a city in their Public Works Department. That’s where I realized my true passion for contract administration.

In 2001, I accepted permanent employment with a smaller city as their Public Works Administrator. I was a one woman show who had no idea   what I had gotten myself into. There was so much that I didn’t know.  Who has time to read volumes of RCWs and attempt to understand them? I promptly put out an SOS to my counterparts at other local agencies. My plea for guidance was heard, and I was invited to attend the very first Purchasing, Bidding, and Contract Management workshop in December 2001, sponsored by the City of Auburn and the Municipal Research & Services Center (MRSC). More than 100 people attended that workshop. And many insisted that this kind of focused training was needed. Thus, CASC was born.

Since then, my involvement with CASC has been fundamental in shaping my career as a public works contracting professional. I have no problem bragging that I am a founding member of CASC. And I am proud to be currently serving as their chair. I walk away from every workshop with new information and concepts that help me with my daily work. And the networking and collaboration with others in the same line of work is invaluable. Plus, CASC has provided me many opportunities to get over my fear of public speaking. I purposely put myself in the position of moderator for the workshops held at the Renton location. Over the years I have become less stressed with public speaking and have gained a vast understanding of federal, state, and local public works contracting regulations.

Ronda Syverson, Senior Administrative Support Assistant, City of Camas

My knowledge of the legal requirements for Public Works Projects has   continued to grow with my participation in the APWA Contract Administration Sub-Committee (CASC). Participation in the committee and attending CASC sponsored workshops has enabled me to continue   to learn more about this very important and ever-changing subject. I’ve learned so much from these training workshops, as well as from listening to other public entities on their processes. I have been able to bring this information back to our office and use it to improve upon our processes. Attending these sessions also offers a chance to hear about the audit process. What the Auditors are looking for in their review, their recent findings, and how they can be avoided.

In 2005, I was promoted to Senior Administrative Support Assistant. I am confident that participation in this valuable training was an essential part in my promotion. My supervisor has praised my efforts to learn more about Public Works Contracting and has noted in my performance review, “As the Capital Projects Manager for Camas, it is especially helpful to me to have Ronda willingly take on the task of assuming responsibility for checking all of our Capital Project Files for complete documentation. She recognizes the importance of keeping accurate and well-organized files and the impact that it has on our reputation as knowledgeable and capable stewards of the money we’re entrusted   with by our various funding sources. Ronda’s commitment and diligence in this area continue to serve Camas very well, especially during our annual audits.”

Note these comments from CASC workshop attendees:

“I appreciate the fact that CASC has a very knowledgeable base of members who pull their resources together to put on very informative no-cost workshops. This helps us working in the construction documentation business to stay on top of changes in the industry and fine-tune our skills. I feel lucky to be able to attend these no-cost workshops during a hard economic time for a lot of municipalities.”

“CASC provides a great service and opportunity for professional development.”

“Hands down, CASC classes are the best way to obtain knowledge on Washington statutes and regulations!”

“CASC has provided me tools to do my job better and be a teacher to those who are not informed.”

“CASC workshops keep us up to date and provide good information from those that work in the field on a regular basis and provide insight/experiences on the issues and potential pitfalls that may be encountered.”

“In addition to increasing my knowledge of construction contract administration, I have made contacts with staff at various state agencies, such as L&I and Prevailing Wages, and have networked with staff from other public agencies, sharing knowledge, documents, and different ways to resolve the various challenges that are common in contract administration.”

Current committee members are:
  • Sherry Arciniega (Port of Seattle)–Chair
  • John Carpita (MRSC)–Executive Board Liaison
  • Betty Chan-Etquibal (Port of Seattle)
  • Jane Cooke (Edmonds School District 15)
  • Jodi Delay (Northwest Region Local Programs)
  • Robert J. Desgrosellier (City of Yakima)
  • Jim Hodges (City of Camas)
  • Thanh Jeffers (City of Olympia)
  • Clark Langstraat (City of Everett)
  • Toni Lyon
  • Sue Ownby (City/County of Yakima)
  • Brenda Peppers (Yakima County)
  • Linda Shilley (Port of Olympia)
  • Ronda Syverson (City of Camas)
  • Melissa Jordan (Pierce County)

So, join me in a tip of the public works construction hardhat to the Contract Administration Subcommittee (CASC).bigstock-Yellow-Hard-Hat-14084174

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of John W. Carpita, PE

About John W. Carpita, PE

John was MRSC’s resource for many years on engineering design, purchasing and contracting issues, local improvement districts, and other infrastructure issues. He had a widely varied career as a consultant, county engineer, city engineer and project manager. He is now retired.