As Hopkinton’s new director of the Department of Public Works, Kerry Reed brings 20-plus years of experience in environmental engineering and municipal government to the town where she has lived for more than a decade.
Reed, hired last month, spoke with the Independent during her first days on the job about her new position, her love for the environment and her desire to provide educational opportunities for residents to learn about things that impact their daily lives, such as stormwater and roadway maintenance.
The Army veteran served for more than six years as an engineering officer in the Army Corps of Engineers after graduating from West Point with a degree in environmental engineering.
“I grew up in New Jersey, very close to West Point,” she explained. “I actually fell in love with West Point before I fell in love with the Army. We used to go there as kids as a tourist place.”
Despite this early influence, Reed said when she was young, her dream was to become an author.
“I wanted to be the next Judy Blume,” she shared. “Then in seventh grade, I had this earth science class, and everything just clicked. I remember that distinctly, because up until then, science was just space and magnets and robotics — nothing that I was interested in at all.”
An in-class experiment on water filtration led to her fascination with dirt, rocks and water, a curiosity that would propel her toward her environmental engineering career. Another science teacher encouraged her to take part in a summer program sponsored by a local utility company, where she explored water treatment facilities, a landfill and a pump station.
“I never thought of myself as an engineer,” Reed confessed. “Going to school, I wanted to be an environmental scientist because I thought I was going to save the world. But at West Point, everybody has to take an engineering minor, so I kind of fell into it.
“Even when I started my career as an engineer, I didn’t think of myself as one,” she continued. “I still had the stereotype in my head that every engineer had to like math and mechanics and had to build bridges. In the Army, I realized that engineering just means problem-solving. People come to us to get things done, and in the Army, we take a lot of pride in that.”
During her time with the Army, she was awarded an Army Achievement Medal for project management for base realignment and closure. That is also where she met her husband.
“We have a long family history of military service,” said Reed, noting that her grandfather was in the Army and her father was in the Marines.
“It was challenging being a woman in the Army,” she added, noting that the first graduating class from West Point that included women was 1980 — only 20 years before hers. “You kind of rise to the occasion. You have to prove yourself more, even if you have the same skills.”
After leaving the Army, Reed began a career in consulting in North Carolina. But it failed to satisfy her love of the environment because she said it was a more profit- and metrics-driven job.
“I realized that the projects that I enjoyed working on were municipal projects, specifically stormwater projects,” she explained. “The people who I enjoyed working with most were public works supervisors. I just really liked working at the municipal level because there’s such a connection with the community. And when you do the work, you can see the impacts right away.”
Missing the changing seasons and her family, Reed relocated to Massachusetts to be closer to her mother and sister, as well as for Hopkinton’s public schools for her two sons. She described herself as a devoted wife and mother in addition to an environmental engineer.
She became the City of Framingham’s senior engineer in 2014, a position she held for more than eight years, before being promoted to her two-year assistant city engineer role in 2021. Before being appointed as Hopkinton’s DPW director, she served for a year as Worcester’s assistant commissioner for the Department of Public Works and Parks, heading the Engineering Department.
“When this opportunity came up in my home community, I became really excited about it,” said Reed. “I knew it would be very fulfilling but also extremely challenging.”
As the former co-vice chair of the Hopkinton Conservation Commission, Reed was one of the stormwater management experts. Her familiarity with development projects there will assist her in her new role.
Said Reed: “The Conservation Commission really does a great job in making sure we meet the regulations and understanding what the town wants to do in terms of development and protecting resources.”
“There’s a plus and a minus to this job, because everything impacts your neighbors in good or bad ways,” she explained. “One of the hardest parts about being in the director’s role is that everything impacts people personally. For them, that is the most important thing in their lives. It’s hard for them to understand that we have constraints, budgets and priorities. We only have so many hours in the day and so many qualified people.”
For example, some solutions to public roadway issues may involve going onto private property, she noted. There are also sometimes laws that constrain what the town can do.
“Most people don’t understand all that, and they shouldn’t have to,” she said. “What they understand is that it used to take them five minutes to get to work, and now it’s taking them 15.”
Creating that balance of providing needed services and addressing resident concerns will be one of Reed’s priorities in her role. Another is providing public education resources.
“Most people don’t realize how important stormwater management is,” Reed explained. “In Massachusetts, it’s the primary source of water pollution, but everyone thinks it’s big, bad industry.”
Also challenging is that the average citizen doesn’t always realize the difference between municipal, state and federal roads, bringing all their complaints to her department.
“In our modern world, people want more and more information,” she added. “And you have to be able to deliver it in different ways.”
Since the pandemic, there has been an increase in the need for transparency and breaking down the mistrust in government that some people have. Reed wants to increase the department’s public outreach.
Reed is looking forward to working with her staff. She commended the department for retaining many of its workers for decades, and she is enjoying her new work environment.
“They really do an amazing job here,” she said. “My primary goal is supporting them. I want to value that knowledge, that commitment, that professionalism. They want to see public works succeed, and I want that, too.”
Another priority of hers is making sure that the town has reliable, safe drinking water. Concerns have emerged over the past two years about PFAS levels in the water, the need for a PFAS water filtration system, and the town eventually connecting to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.
“Hopkinton is really in a state of transition right now,” she said. “It creates a huge challenge for municipal services in terms of demand. We’re always keeping up with these evolving needs.
“The thing I love to say about public works specifically is that public works touches your life every day and impacts your quality of life every day,” Reed explained. “You’re either driving on a road or you’re putting on your faucet to get clean water or you’re having your trash picked up. And if we do our job well, no one really notices.”