An homage to the Department of Public Services' long-standing service to Cincinnati residents and businesses.
Stephanie Johnston An homage to the Department of Public Services' long-standing service to Cincinnati residents and businesses.

Last week, President Trump stumped his infrastructure financing plan in Cincinnati, a city I'm glad I got to know when the American Public Works Association brought its Snow Conference there in 2014. It cost about $2 to take a bus from the airport to my hotel in Covington, Ky. Of COURSE I visited the Department of Public Services, which provides solid waste collection, snow removal, highway maintenance, fleet services, and architectural maintenance services. From there I walked to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (great museum) and then -- I guess because I didn't think that was enough exercise -- walked over the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge and around the historic homes that line the Kentucky side of the Ohio River.

Anyway, the president shared how the administration plans to stimulate infrastructure investment at the Municipal Lunken Airport and Rivertowne Marina. I'm sure you know by now that it relies heavily on private sector involvement, proposing that a $200 billion commitment by the federal government will produce $1 trillion in spending by other levels of government and business.

This isn't a revolutionary idea. A lot of you are already doing it. It doesn't help the average public works department with the non-revenue-producing activities of maintaining sidewalks, plowing streets, mowing parks, picking up garbage, treating water, etc., etc., etc. Which led to my tirade about the difference between what you do and infrastructure.

That prompted the following from Scott Kearby in Bel Air, Md. "I understand your argument, but think you're splitting hairs. Public works can encompass (1) the organizations and people that provide all the actions associated with getting the work done and (2) the physical/built environment owned by the public (i.e. the government … at all levels).

"'Infrastructure' can refer to the government-owned built environment as well as the built environment that's privately owned but operated for public benefit, like the internet, private airports, private rail systems, etc. 'Public works' can mean people and organizations, but infrastructure does not. Infrastructure can refer to both public- and private-sector built environment, but public works is generally owned/operated by government or quasi-government agencies at some level.

"I've learned over 30+ years that communication is hard even when we speak the same language. I think those of us who work in the public arena need to take the extra effort to more precisely distinguish what we're trying to communicate. When we toss around terms without clarifying our intent, the audience will interpret based on their experience and knowledge. And when my message is garbled, I haven't achieved my goal."