Suhail Kanwar was hired earlier this month as Houston's City Engineer, filling a key role in the Houston Public Works department that had been vacant for more than six months.
The City Engineer manages the permitting and inspection of construction and oversees engineering reviews within the city's rights-of-way, including for Capital Improvement Projects. The Office of the City Engineer also plays a significant role in the city's policies regarding the use of alleys, which are common in the Heights.
Former City Engineer HoJin Lim said last fall that the department determines which alleys are private or public, and therefore maintained by the city. Whether alleys are deemed public or private, the City Engineer also has a say in who can access the alleys and for what purposes, in order to enforce city ordinances related to stormwater drainage and street safety. While exerting control over alley usage, the city also has taken a hands-off approach when it comes to disputes between property owners regarding encroachments in an alley.
Lim was reassigned in early December, shortly after The Leader published the second part in an ongoing series about alley issues in the Heights. Houston Public Works spokesperson Erin Jones said at the time that the Houston City Council's Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure Committee planned to evaluate and possibly amend the city's policies on alleys in the spring. But Jones said earlier this month that she was not aware of that having happened.
"It might be something they wanted to hold off on since they knew were hiring a new City Engineer," she said. "It's probably something that will be on his agenda."
Houston Public Works recently announced two other hires in addition to Kanwar, who has previously worked as the public works administrator in McKenzie County, North Dakota, as the public works director and county engineer for Lyon County, Minnesota, and as a senior project manager for Hedlund Engineering.
Melissa Chesser is Houston Public Works' new director of government relations, which manages agenda items for the city council, addresses community concerns and facilitates communication between local, state and federal entities. She most recently worked for the U.S. Department of Defense is Washington, D.C.
Houston Public Works also promoted Tracy Samuel to assistant director of Transportation & Drainage Operations, which maintains and improves infrastructure that spans Houston's 671 square miles. Samuel previously was the deputy assistant director.
"Houston Public Works' recent leadership appointments build on our purpose to create a strong foundation for Houston to thrive," department director Carol Haddock said in a news release. "Houston Public Works is diverse, dynamic, and these leaders bring experience, innovation, and excellent customer service mindsets."