Public Works Director Thelman Boyd has been in the infrastructure business a long, long time. Boyd came on as interim Public Works director and then official Public Works director under the administration of former Mayor Frank Melton, after first serving in the department throughout the Johnson administration. He couldn't help picking up a little innate knowledge during all that time.
The seasoned director can describe the gravel and clay composition under the downtown section of Capitol Street near City Hall. He can also give you a few estimates on the amount of traffic passing over that section of street, and predict an average of how long that clay and gravel composition will work with that particular degree of traffic to turn your street into a vicious ribbon of potholes.
Boyd can forecast the amount of time it takes to compound the damage to the city's roads through neglect and infrequent maintenance.
"As the top layer of asphalt gives way to erosion, it leaves the underlying concrete exposed to the same weather, making your repairs more expensive as the months go on," Boyd told the Jackson Free Press in idle conversation one day. "Putting off the work only makes it more expensive later, in some cases."
These kinds of concerns float about his face like a continuous bad mood, putting a permanent crease in his brow and prompting him to develop a certain hand-wringing quality when he attends council meetings.
That brow got noticeably deeper this past week, as the city faced about 150 ruptures in its water lines. Freezing weather took its toll on Jackson's ancient and vast system of cast iron water pipes. Boyd's department worked around the clock along with workers from neighboring cities to patch things up.
Boyd did not brag on his lack of sleep last week, but he will tell you that the city is still in need of upgrades to replace its network of aging pipes, despite about $177 million in infrastructure upgrades between 1986 and 2009. His agenda forever beats its head against the brick wall of limited city revenue, however. This year's dropping revenue doesn't make his situation any easier, but he carries on without a hint of anxiety.
"Hey, we're getting it done," Boyd called, heading out the doors of City Hall during the height of last week's water disaster. "We'll get 'em working again." The water pressure was back up the next day.
This article has been revised to reflect the correct spelling of Boyd's first name.