I actually missed this news a couple of weeks ago and it wasn't widely reported, but DC mayor Muriel Bowser has picked a permanent leader for the District Department of Transportation and appointed a new head of the Office of the Clean City. Both are picks to be excited about.
The new DDOT head is the same guy who's been in charge the last few months, since Leif Dormsjo stepped down: Jeff Marootian. Marootian came into the DC government as a Capital City Fellow, a program that recruits bright early-career public servants to rotate among some District agencies before finding a permanent spot. He worked at MPD for seven years before going to DDOT as its Customer Service Officer from 2008-2011.
Marootian (whose name, by the way, is pronounced “Maroo-tea-un” rather than “Maroo-shun”) then went federal, working for the USDOT under Secretary Anthony Foxx during President Obama's second term, ultimately becoming the Assistant Secretary for Administration. After the end of the Obama administration, he came back to the DC government as the deputy director of DDOT under Dormsjo.
Dormsjo helped DDOT become more professional and more effective, including overseeing a reorganization that put the planning and engineering departments under a Chief Project Delivery Officer (Sam Zimbabwe). This is helping to reduce the chronic problem of the two groups not working together enough, with either planners designing something impractical or engineers losing the initial purpose in creating plans. DDOT isn't all perfect now, but it seems better able to actually execute on what it says it will do, a significant challenge in past years.
This is a good time for continuity at DDOT, and Marootian represents that. More importantly, he promises to bring a stronger focus on community engagement to the agency. Sometimes it seems teams at DDOT vacillate between wanting to rush public meetings and not get any input, or just deciding what to do based on whoever speaks loudest at one meeting. Or, politically controversial decisions create paralysis and important projects don't move forward.
There's a middle ground that combines listening with expert knowledge, which strikes a balance between getting input and moving forward decisively, and we can hope Marootian's background in this area will help the agency better navigate that. It won't be easy, though, for a large agency which touches most adults' everyday lives more than any other and controls more land in the District, I believe, than any other.
Julie Lawson will head the Office of the Clean City
Some of that land is where people like to throw trash, and Julie Lawson's life's work has been to convince people not to do that. At the Surfrider Foundation, Anacostia Watershed Society, and most recently as Executive Director of Trash Free Maryland, Lawson has worked to educate the public and campaign for laws that reduce trash in our parks, rivers, and streets. She worked to ban materials like polystyrene food packaging and “microbeads” in skin care products which tend to end up polluting waterways and killing wildlife.
She also has been a Greater Greater Washington contributor since 2012.
Now, Lawson will work to make the District cleaner as head of the Office of the Clean City. This office coordinates agency efforts and programs around a clean city and advocates for better laws around public space cleanliness. Those programs include education efforts for adults and youth, “Adopt-a-Block,” cleanliness ratings, and more.
I look forward to working with these two great folks to help DC's streets move people better and with less trash!