Dunedin boss learns of life in trenches
By LEON M. TUCKER
© St. Petersburg Times,
DUNEDIN -- With every minute that passed, John Lawrence seemed to grow more anxious.
"I'm ready to start sweating," he said to the workers who were digging out an old pipe to be replaced 5 feet below him.
Then it was his turn.
"Mr. Lawrence," said Charles DeAugustino, crew leader and maintenance worker for the city of Dunedin. "Would you like to help us fit this pipe?"
"Oh, yes," Lawrence answered, then zipped to the edge of the hole, jumped in, grabbed a shovel and started digging.
For the past 15 years, Lawrence, Dunedin's city manager, has made a habit of working with many of the people who work for him.
He has painted water tanks, hung off the backs of garbage trucks and inspected buildings.
"I think what he is doing is great, because it creates a great environment for the employees," said Maureen Freaney, assistant city manager. "It also gives him a lot of good insight and a greater level of understanding."
City workers such as DeAugustino say they appreciate it when Lawrence shows up.
"He has gained the respect of all the people out here," DeAugustino said. "Which I don't think is very common in a lot of cities."
One of Lawrence's more memorable experiences came on the back of a sanitation truck a few years ago.
The truck's trash compactor was crushing a load.
Lawrence didn't know it, but one of the bags inside the compactor contained an almost-full gallon of spoiled milk.
"When the machine crushed the milk, it just exploded," Lawrence recounted. "And we were covered from head to foot with this foul stuff."
Another time, Lawrence was helping city wastewater workers unclog a sewer pipe.
To avoid a potentially smelly mess, the crew went door to door and asked residents not to flush their toilets while work was being done on the pipes.
In the middle of the job, someone flushed.
Lawrence, who was drenched by the very fresh wastewater, did not get mad.
'It's a lot of fun and you get to know the guys," he said. "Some people may look down on the sanitation workers, but they bust their butts for their city.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for these workers."
Besides getting to know his employees, Lawrence said his involvement gives him a better understanding of his departments' many needs.
"A lot of time a department head will come to me and say they need a new piece of equipment and my first reaction will be, 'They want another toy,' " he said.
"But instead of saying 'No,' I'll go out and see why they need that equipment."
On Friday, Jean Bennett came out of her house to the hole Lawrence was digging.
"You've got yourself quite a hole here, haven't you?" she said.
"We sure do," said Lawrence, sweating, his hands covered with dirt.
Bennett was later surprised to learn who the man was.
"He didn't really act any different than the other guys," she said. "I think it is great he does that."
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