Bruce Wagner, director of the Public Works Department for the Village of Wellington, believes that “without your team, you’re nothing.” This phrase is a mantra for everything, from his love of sports to his management style.
“I started out in the Parks & Recreation Department as the supervisor of the grounds,” Wagner recalled. “Then I went to operations manager of grounds and facilities, but the last 10 and half years, I’ve been here at the Public Works Department.”
His journey to Wellington was unusual for administrators working in the government sector. Wagner, a native of New York’s Long Island, spent most of his career working in construction and various forms of landscaping.
“I did have a partnership with my brother in landscaping for about 15 years. I went to college for commercial art, believe it or not, and then I started to gravitate toward landscape design,” Wagner explained. “Then I worked for a lighting company in Long Island and took over running the grounds.”
In 1996, Wagner and his wife moved to Florida for the first time. They chose Orlando, where he landed a position that ended up being a dream job — working for Walt Disney World.
“I was like a test project for Disney at that time. HR hired me directly off the street, which was not normal for them. It was a match made in heaven. I loved it; loved everything about it,” Wagner said. “Most landscapers don’t know all the characters and stuff about the park, but I did. I jumped in with both feet.”
A few years later, however, the Wagners moved back to New York to be closer to family and had their first child. Shortly after his daughter turned one, they moved back to Florida and brought the family with them this time. Living in Coconut Creek, Wagner started the next chapter of his career with humble beginnings.
“I worked for Home Depot in the outside garden area,” Wagner said. “It’s amazing the amount of people you start meeting. After a couple of months, I went to work for a management company.”
But 2004 was a difficult hurricane season. It meant Wagner was spending more and more time managing properties and away from home. His wife began researching positions further north and found an opening with the Village of Wellington.
“Within two weeks, I was hired, and I’ve never looked back. It has been a great experience coming here,” Wagner said. “We all care about each other. It is definitely a family because you spend all this time with each other. Communication is the key, and it has never been better.”
After nearly 14 years with the Village of Wellington, Wagner has found a second version of the happiest place on earth.
At approximately 46 square miles, Wellington is about the same size as Walt Disney World. Some days it’s like Tomorrow Land, some days it’s like Fantasy Land and some days it’s like Adventure Land. It’s never dull. “There is something new every day in public works, and we love it,” Wagner said.
The Public Works Department is crucial to the mission of Wellington.
“Public works takes care of the infrastructure, including roadways, canals, pumping stations, all the maintenance in any park, lights on the fields, mosquito control and all of the miles and miles of horse trails,” Wagner said. “We also do set up, break down and cleanup after large events. It’s always different here. We have 108 employees, and everyone pulls on that rope.”
Some of his proudest accomplishments for the department include twice earning American Public Works Association (APWA) accreditation, and the role played in the Parks & Recreation Department’s certification by the Commission for Accreditation of Parks and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA).
“We are one of maybe nine entities in the whole state to get both of those awards,” Wagner noted.
Aside from pride over his work and team, Wagner also has a strong sense of family. Married for 29 years, Wagner and his wife are raising two children with a sense of love for sharing adventures.
“We are obsessed with snorkeling,” Wagner said. “It’s so much fun to go as a family. We love cruising and have been to Barbados, Bequia, St. Thomas and San Juan.”
Sports also plays a big part in Wagner’s everyday life and philosophy.
“I’m more of a player’s coach. I like to watch what’s going on before I really have to say something. There are so many times you can look back and say, ‘You guys did a great job,’ and don’t have to constantly tell them what to do. Let them go out and experience things. We all make mistakes, but if they can correct them right away, it’s phenomenal. I love this crew,” Wagner said. “Nothing is better than when you can grow your own, bring them up and keep them. When you can keep them, that’s a good thing.”
Wagner’s team mentality, combined with his respect for both administration and the crew he supervises, makes for an environment set up for sustainable success. From succession plans to cross training and preparation for the future in Wellington, the foundation keeps coming back to one thing — “without your team, you’re nothing.” Wagner sees a bright future filled with opportunity for his team at Wellington’s Public Works Department.