Public Works Director retires


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A roughly 52-year-old jar of pickles sits on a shelf in front of a myriad of maps and blueprints that drape the walls of Rick Fosse’s office, overlooking his desk. 

Fosse, Iowa City’s public works director, found the jar in an old Iowa City dump while working on a storm-sewer project along the Iowa River.

“I’ve always kept that jar of pickles just to remind me that the stuff that goes into our landfills doesn’t break down,” he said.

The 55-year-old Fosse stands of average height with dark hair draping over the tortoise-colored temples of his translucent, foggy-white glasses frames.

On New Year’s Eve, Fosse will retire after 31 years in the city’s Public Works Department.

Over the past decade, he oversaw more than 150 employees and all operations as the department’s director, managing construction projects, coordinating disaster-relief efforts, and maintaining local infrastructure.

In the 1980s, Fosse was a design engineer for the city, which he describes as the most hands-on part of his career. From 1989 until 2003, he was the city engineer in charge of all design and construction inspection.

“I like to look back at my career and think about the actions more than the objects,” Fosse said.

“During all of the disasters, what really shows through is our staff’s ability to step up and really perform well in unusual circumstances. Individual skills and talents that you don’t see in them in their day-to-day activities really become apparent. That’s when you realize you’ve really got good people.”

Fosse is referring floods, a tornado, and fires that have affected local residents and businesses. Three of the four worst floods in the city’s  recorded history have hit the community during his time as director, he said.

Despite graduating from Iowa State University in 1982, he and his family have settled into the University of Iowa community.

“Over the years I’ve formed an affection for the University of Iowa,” Fosse said. “It feels more like my home college than Iowa State.”

He and wife Karen Fosse are planning a celebratory vacation in Hawaii after his retirement. Fosse’s career plans remain a mystery. After some time off, he will explore clubs and nonprofit organizations.

“Naturally, we’re very excited because he has worked hard all his life, and we’re looking forward to the next chapter in our lives,” Karen Fosse said. “The thing that always impressed me was how willing he was to help people in the community understand what he and his department are doing for the city.” 

Johnson County Supervisor Pat Harney, who has known Rick Fosse for nearly 30 years, said, “[Fosse] has a lot of experience and has really been a hard worker. He’s as good of an individual as you’d like by your side when you’re working with tragedies in the Iowa City area.”

Fosse was instrumental working with recovery and evacuation efforts while being an excellent community coordinator, Harney said.

Colleagues described Fosse as a multimedia enthusiast, referring to him as “the king of the PowerPoint presentation.”

Water Superintendent Ed Moreno, a friend and coworker who attends Fosse’s annual Christmas party, said he has never seen Fosse rattled.

“One thing with Rick I do remember vividly is the floods of ’93 and 2008,” Moreno said.  “He would gather the pertinent information for all Iowa City folks from public works on through. I thought he did an outstanding job, and he always kept his cool.”

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