In 1988, when David Foster first began working for the City of Asheville as a 19-year-old temporary laborer on a paving crew, the city, and especially its downtown, was a very different place. Working on the city’s street crews and making his way up through the ranks, Foster saw it all change. Twenty-two years later, the City of Asheville’s Assistant Director of Public Works says the kind of experience he has gotten over the years gives him especially useful insights into the divisions he oversees.
“I think I have a perspective that others may not necessarily have,” Foster says. “I know how hard it is to throw the trash. I know how hard and hot it can be on the paving crew. I know that when you’re doing concrete work, the material tells you when you get to take a break, not so much your stomach or your thirst.”
Foster took on the role of Interim Assistant Director of Public Works in 2009, and in 2010 was formally promoted to the assistant director position. Having a history in the area (he grew up in Asheville, his father worked for the city’s Fleet Division, his mother for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department), Foster says there is a sense of satisfaction seeing the changes that city initiatives like the downtown streetscape plan yielded.
Along the way, Foster has worked on street cuts, sidewalks, the Urban Trail and installing the first benches, downtown tree pits and bike lanes in the City of Asheville. “Our legacy is that we were able to go and put our fingerprint on most of the things that Asheville prides itself on now,” he says. “Most of the stuff we were piloting in the 1990’s is the norm now.”
As Assistant Director of Public Works, Foster oversees the Streets, Sanitation and Fleet Divisions, providing their administrative backbone. On a day-to-day basis, he reviews and analyzes the needs of the divisions and the public who depends on them. He points to upcoming innovations that will help improve the ability to be efficient for himself and the rest of the Public Works Department.
A revamp in the way street cuts are recorded and patched will put more responsibility on the Streets Division, adding accountability and speeding up the rate in which cuts are patched. “Most people who see a street cut don’t know what utility is making the cut,” Foster says. “They just know the road isn’t fixed. We’ll be able to tell you who made the cut and when it will be repaired.”
As of October 1, the Public Works Department also joined several other departments on a MUNIS software database that will allow easier and faster tracking of information that will benefit Asheville City Council and the public by being able to quickly show costs and benefits of specific projects.
Foster, a former motocross and hill climb competitor, spends his off time playing electric guitar, often jamming with his 12-year-old son, the youngest of three children.
In his 22-year career at the City of Asheville, he has earned a string of recognitions and awards, including the Colin Powell Leadership Award for National Public Works Week and City of Asheville recognition for Outstanding Supervisor, Outstanding Productivity, and Excellence in Public Service Award for Heroic Act Award.
These days, driving or walking the streets of Asheville, Foster is glad to be able to see the results of the work completed by the City of Asheville’s Public Works Department. “Its very satisfying. I can go on any street in downtown and almost any street in Asheville and see something that we’ve touched in some capacity or another. There was flood here or a tree down here, or even a little boy’s toy we had to pull out of a drain on this street.”