published: Friday, December 07, 2012
On the road, on the job
GREG JONES | Staff Writer
There are more than 1,390 miles of roads in Lake County and Lori Conway has built, fixed or maintained every one of them.
"It is always prideful when I can say, 'I built that road,'" said Conway, the county's road operations division manager. "That is why I love my job."
Some 30 public works employees, most of them men, were recently honored for 20 years of service to the county. Conway was there, too, recognized for two decades of road work that has topped more than $100 million on her watch.
If you're picturing her carrying a shovel or checking a pothole, you'd be only partially right. In her job she's more likely to be holding a cell phone and checking a blueprint to make sure road projects are being completed under budget and as designed.
"I can take you to places in South Lake County where we built roads when there was nothing on them," Conway said. "When you build them and come back later, it is amazing to see people drive on them, and they are part of a connection. I get a satisfaction in seeing a project competed."
This drive has served Conway well. She started her career with the county as a temporary secretary in it solid waste division before getting promoted to various positions in public works.
Conway said her success is simple: She has always looked to know more than what is required of her job, believing this would open doors to better opportunities.
In 1996, she was promoted to construction program coordinator. She took over the five-year road program, which gives people a view of where the focus of public works s going to be in the coming years and how much money it will cost. In 2002, as Capital Program Manager, Conway managed several road construction projects that totaled more than $100 million.
"I treat our budget like it is my checkbook, and those who work for me have that same philosophy," she said. "We are taxpayers, and we do live in Lake County.
"Contractors are not going to come and build a job for us and expect changes left and right. That is how some contractors operate. They will come and bid a job and get the job and will change order. We don't do that, and change orders are scrutinized very heavily."
Three years later, as head of funding and productions, Conway realized there wasn't a simple outline or procedure to build a road. She created one, not only for public works, but for developers and road contractors as well.
"They needed to know what steps to take, (what) copies are needed, how much money is needed, what is the next step and how long it is going to take," Conway said. "So, I developed a process to streamline our efforts and streamline their efforts.
"It was a huge undertaking because there was so much paper.
"At that time, I had subdivisions I was responsible for, but also the road projects' bidding and contract administration. There was a lot of paperwork coming through."
Conway isn't bothered by the fact she "works in a man's world," either.
Before joining the county, she worked for a general contractor and there weren't many women around, either. She said the people under her in public works share her focus about doing the job right the first time. After all, they will be driving themselves and their families on the roads they oversee.
"I get construction," Conway said. "I know construction, and I have a great group of folks that support me, and they are predominately men. There are 75 folks in road operations, and (it is) full of men. They are a great group of guys. I respect them, and they respect me. I got their backs, and they have my back. They are hard workers."
David Berger, a county area maintenance manager, said Conway wants projects to be done correctly.
"She pays attention to detail and that is probably her No. 1 attribute," he said. "She cares about people and works hard to get the job done."
Public Works Director Jim Stivender isn't surprised Conway is so respected in her division. He said she is tough on issues and expects a "day's work for a day's pay."
"She is focused and she knows her job," Stivender said. "She knows her business and she has been doing construction for years. If you know your business, people will follow you."