Russell Pehl knows you think San Angelo’s streets stink. He won’t disagree with you.
As city engineer, he tends to hundreds of millions of dollars of municipal infrastructure. He’s also a point person for millions more in proposed upgrades to streets, water and sewer lines, and storm drainage.
Solid and steady, the 36-year-old Pehl doesn’t allow the magnitude of that responsibility to overwhelm him. Neither does he let public criticism that improvements don’t happen fast enough sting him personally. Doing so, he said, would distract him from the job at hand.
“What I like to do is try to explain where we’re at, how we’re getting to where we’re trying to get … and communicate to folks, ‘I live here, too,’” he said. “I want to be as much a part of the solution as anyone else.
“What I find a lot of times is that people just don’t know what it takes to make those improvements and do them correctly. Anybody could slap something together. My goals are to come up with a sustainable solution and not have to deal with it again for 50 years.”
Bell Street is a prime example. Pehl recently asked the City Council to reject the lone bid on the first of three phases to rebuild the ragged roadway. The bid was $2 million over budget.
So Pehl proposed bidding all three phases as one in hopes of attracting larger contractors. The project was previously delayed by efforts to secure easements from some landowners to accommodate sewer mains that will be moved. Pehl embraces the “juggling act” of navigating issues with nimble thinking.
“It’s just never boring,” he said of his job. “There’s always something to do, always a challenge.
“The biggest difference between the private side and the government side (of engineering) is the hunting for work versus always having work.”
A deacon and Sunday school teacher at Southland Baptist Church, Pehl said he seeks to live with a servant’s heart, taking an “active role and not just sitting idly by.” Part of that involves volunteering with and serving on the board of Helping Hands.
Formerly Christmas in April, Helping Hands assists the elderly with home repairs they can’t afford or can’t physically do themselves. Teams of volunteers fan out across the Concho Valley to spruce up 30 homes. In the process, the volunteers learn about the people they’re serving, including that some were once Christmas in April helpers.
Soft-spoken by nature, Pehl turns animated when talking about the charity. It also fits in with his definition of leadership.
“Anybody can be a boss,” he said. “But it takes a servant to become a leader.”
Pehl also finds inspiration from the public servants he works alongside. Each, he explained, adds qualities he likes to tap in his own service and leadership.
“Even if I don’t necessarily agree with an individual,” Pehl said, “they have their own unique qualities. I try to take those qualities and try to apply them to myself.”