Tom Frederick, Executive Director, Rivanna Water and Sewage Authority
Your job title is Executive Director. What, in your own words, would you say you do?
I am expected to be an effective leader of a team of employees. I must also be an effective communicator and negotiator, and a strategic thinker who is also politically savvy. Our Board represents both the City and the County. Our employees represent a diversity of talents from multiple professional and technical trades. I’m very proud of what we have accomplished. In ten years we have rebuilt most of a wastewater infrastructure that was once in poor condition, and we’ve expanded the water supply by replacing a 100-year old dam with a new dam that will meet our needs at least 50 years into the future. Our industry is heavily regulated, requiring constant interaction with state and federal officials who have their own ideas as to what should be our priorities.
What is the best part of your job? The most difficult part?
I thoroughly enjoy public speaking, especially sharing with citizen groups the many valuable services and work ethic I have observed from the wonderful employees of the Rivanna Authorities.
The most difficult part is the very high level of patience required to endure the slow process by which some difficult decisions are made in the public sector. Reaching a sustainable regional consensus on the public role for solid waste has been particularly difficult, yet I see current elected officials who want a solution and I am hopeful that a breakthrough will occur soon.
How does your job most directly impact the average person?
The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority provides essential services every day to every single citizen living within our urbanized areas. Flushing a toilet, taking a shower, washing dishes, and cooking are all directly impacted by our hard work. “To err is human,” but we are constantly reminded of the importance of high quality, as real people may otherwise drink our mistakes. That’s a high level of responsibility, without the promise of praise for success, as when we succeed it is often taken for granted. For us, job satisfaction must be spiritual, a journey from within.
What is the most interesting project or work experience that you’ve had while with the RWSA?
There have been many interesting experiences, but I would have to say the one that tops the list is the new Ragged Mountain Dam. It was like a long play with two acts. In Act 1, we had to “thread the eye” of a small needle to find a solution that “married” local interests with federal regulatory priorities. In Act 2, we had to defend that successful “marriage” against interests I believe wanted to “break up” that marriage.
What is a little-known fact about you?
I have a strong interest in what constitutes maintaining good health, which includes regular exercise, nutrition, and an understanding of a diversity of medical practices, including homeopathy. I suppose it’s the “baby boomer” in me; always hoping to beat the odds.