John Minkel, Utilities Superintendent, City of Thousand Oaks
John Minkel, has already accomplished a lot in his tenure as Utilities Superintendent for the City of Thousand Oaks, but his best days may lie ahead.
His nomination for Emerging Leader listed leadership by example, creating a challenging environment for employees, interaction with the public, pursuing green certification, and more.
His facilities and staff have received CWEA awards for Tri-Counties Collection System, and Operator of the Year, and they won third place in the State. They’ve also received the Gold Peak Performance Award for having no discharge violations at the treatment plant two years in a row.
But instead of looking back, John eagerly looks ahead. “One water, that’s where we’re headed,” he says. “It’s one resource—from where we get it, how we use it, collect it, treat it, and recycle it. We’re all dealing with different aspects of it. The future is about protecting that resource, and that’s my job.”
It didn’t start out that way. Minkel was on the landscaping crew as a student at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula. He worked on campus maintenance after graduating and discovered the school had its own water system and package wastewater plant.
“I job-shadowed in wastewater and liked the science, the physics, the outdoor work,” he says. “It fit me like a glove.”
He took courses in the water science program at Ventura College, earned certification, joined the water distribution staff at Ventura Regional, and then to Thousand Oaks where he started as an Operator-in-Training.
In just over 10 years he rose through the ranks from an OIT to a grade V Operator and now Superintendent (earning his MBA in his spare time). He’s developed a reputation for encouraging and challenging his employees to make improvements.
“Management is all about giving recognition where it’s due,” he says. “My job is to help facilitate the people in the field. They’re the ones doing the heavy lifting. When good things happen, it’s because of them. You need to give them the ability to run with their ideas.
There are many examples of that at Thousand Oaks. Minkel mentions one where operators came up with the idea of creating a “mini-headworks” at the FOG (Fats, Oils, and Grease) receiving station to clear out rags and debris and improve digestibility of the material and overall gas production to fuel renewable energy production.
Communications is a key to success, Minkel says. “The main thing is not to hide anything. Be honest, be transparent. I want to keep my supervisors informed, my colleagues informed, and the people working for me informed. I want to share information as much as I can. When we work together, we succeed.”