City wins prestigious public works accreditation

Feb. 12—Less than 200 cities in the U.S. and Canada achieve full accreditation from a national public works association and Norman is one of them, city officials announced.

The American Public Works Association (APWA) gave its nod of approval to the city for the fourth time since 2008, a statement released last week indicates.

The designation means that Norman's public works, parks and recreation, and utilities departments follow the nation's best management practices.

"We are incredibly proud of the work staff has done to achieve re-accreditation through the APWA, which requires an exceptional amount of preparation, commitment and follow through," City Manager Darrel Pyle said. "It is truly a privilege to work with the best in the business."

Winning the accreditation means the city has to prove that it operates those departments to the highest standards of the industry, Public Works Director Shawn O'Leary said.

"In my mind, accreditation is simply a mark of professionalism that indicates a public works agency is well managed, complies with recommended practices, and is dedicated to continuous improvement," O'Leary told The Transcript.

The process involves a lengthy review of policies and procedures followed by recommended changes. A new department reviewed this period was the city's transit system which was added in 2019.

"During the re-accreditation process this year, we had to prove that we are operating Embark Norman to the highest standards of that industry," O'Leary said. "It was a very good exercise for our staff, and no serious concerns were identified. I found that to be impressive for a transit system that has only operated for three years."

The association required an additional update to the city's personnel manual.

"Our new HR director, Ms. Dawn Jones, welcomed the input and the opportunity to update the manual," O'Leary said. "She was aware of the problem but it was helpful to have validation from an objective, outside agency."

O'Leary won approval from city officials in 2007 to reach for the accreditation.

The first period is a four-year review and becomes semi-annual after that. When he started, the city didn't have any documented policies for its street sweeping program. Changes under the association's recommendations improved the program and made it more "environmentally sensitive," he said.

The association will eventually review the city's Emergency Operations Plan.

"The city's Emergency Operation Plan (EOP) is more than ten years old," O'Leary said. "The city's Emergency Manager, Fire Chief Travis King, has been unable to secure funding to update the plan. "

O'Leary said in the last 16 years, the city has faced 18 weather-related disasters and other emergencies.

"Because the accreditation process identifies this issue every four years, it is my hope and that of Chief King that a future city budget or federal grant will allow us to update the EOP which will improve the city's ability to respond and recover from emergencies," he said.

O'Leary thanked his fellow department heads for their hard work to win the achievement.

"I am ecstatic that fellow directors Chris Mattingly of Utilities and Jason Olsen of Parks & Recreation continued our collaborative tradition and joined with me to seek re-accreditation of 468 different public works practices performed by the three city departments," he said.

Mindy Wood covers City and County government news and notable lawsuits for The Transcript. Reach her at or 405-416-4420.