New public works director excited for larger role

Marshalltown has found its next public works director.

The city hired Heather Thomas to take on the position left vacant by Justin Nickel, who took a job with the consulting firm Bolton and Menk. Thomas was a consulting engineer with Clapsaddle, Garber and Associates before taking the post with the city, and her first day was Nov. 9.

Nickel’s final day on the job with the city was Oct. 30, so the position was only vacant for a little more than a week. City administrator Jessica Kinser said filling the position quickly benefits the city with all of the ongoing projects in progress.

“It is also budget season, so having someone on board to develop a budget that can fit the operational need they see is a huge benefit,” Kinser said. “In less than a month, Heather has stepped in and taken on some lingering items and resolved them. She immediately got to work and has done great.”

The transition has been an easy one for Thomas. She worked with the city during her tenure at CGA, so her familiarity with many of the projects she’s now overseeing has helped her hit the ground running.

“I’ve attended council meetings for about five years now. It’s been really helpful on projects and items in the community, even if I wasn’t involved in them,” Thomas said.

She has also presented at council meetings on behalf of CGA. In May, she shared concepts for a housing development on W. Merle Hibbs Boulevard.

Thomas, who grew up in Marshall County before earning her engineering degree from Iowa State, moved back to Marshalltown in 2017. From her CGA office, Thomas has watched the city rebuild from two natural disasters while trying to maintain through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s very true the city of Marshalltown has been punched in a couple different locations,” she said. “Outside of that, there were a lot of needs prior to that as well.”

Thomas is excited to have a bigger role in seeing several projects to completion, namely the reconstruction of State Street. The projects she’s most excited about, however, are some the public doesn’t necessarily see — for example, infrastructure improvements and the upgrades to the water treatment plant.

“I’m a bit of an engineering nerd,” she said. “Doing improvements and maintenance to prolong on a shoestring budget at times and meet DNR requirements in those activities as well — those projects are not as public, but they’re really important.”

More than any project, Thomas is excited to be working in a more hands-on capacity with the city. She was most interested in the public works director position because she wanted to have a larger role in the city’s projects.

“I was a piece of it, but I’m a larger piece of it now,” she said. “I like the direction the city is headed in. It’s a good opportunity to work more with some of those connections I have developed with city staff and other organizations.”

Thomas said the biggest challenge in her position is balancing public needs and public wants while providing a good service within the city’s budget. Her main goals involve keeping the city’s momentum toward growth and improvement.

“My goal is to continue the efforts that have been made so far in the city,” she said. “I want to be a very transparent public works director. I’m always open, and I look forward to getting to know the public more.”


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