Carol Elizabeth Owens
Norman H. Jones, the city’s Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services (DES) will retire at the end of this year, closing a more than 40-year career that took him from the City’s lowest paid title to the head of DES which manages the city’s largest budget and 600 full-time employees.
Rochester Mayor James Patrick Smith made the announcement on Dec. 3, 2021.
“In the city of Rochester, the built environment is synonymous with Norman Jones,” said Mayor Smith. “From the infrastructure to the operating systems to the people who provide the critical services that keep our city running in every weather condition, there is not a mile within Rochester’s 37-square-mile radius that isn’t better today because of his work. The legacy of Norman Jones will outlast all of our lifetimes.”
DES provides the city’s most comprehensive collection of services, affecting the life of every person who enters the city, whether it’s to live, work or play.
Jones began working as a summer seasonal worker as a junior recreation leader at Clinton-Baden Street Park in 1977; after that, he started his first full-time job as a DES customer-service representative (the predecessor of today’s 311 call taker) in 1985. Jones has served as the city’s Department of Environmental Services (DES) commissioner since 2014. Jones held roles of progressive responsibility including dispatcher, recycling coordinator, manager of building services and director of operations.
“I truly believe I made a difference in everyone’s lives, being basically a person who cares about the entire community– making sure there are opportunities for individuals who have had doors closed on them or who’ve not had access to certain employment opportunities,” Jones said. “I also wanted to make sure we [the city] provided a high level of service to all parts of our city; not just in neighborhoods like Browncroft, Highland Avenue, and Charlotte, but making sure that we provided a high level of service to Joseph Avenue, Clinton Avenue and Hudson Avenue– making sure we operate[d] with the highest degree of integrity; that we provided service to our community in a very dignified manner; and that we represented ourselves as positive role models every time we walked out of our facilities and every time we serviced our customers– that we did so with the highest level of professionalism,” said Jones, adding that “We value customer service and we value our citizens as customers.”
Jones, whose career with the city started as a low-ranking summer seasonal worker, dedicated much effort to making positive community and employment changes for individuals he saw as being overlooked.
He became involved as a leader in the city’s “re-job” program that is sponsored federally by the EPA. “We are in a cycle of re-job programming where individuals who have basically been shut out of the environmental or public works vocational fields were provided with an extensive eight-week training program for exposure to different areas and development of their skill sets,” Jones said. “We have been successful in placing every re-job program graduate in positions where they are being able to provide for their families.”
Jones cites the following testimonial from a re-job program participant to illustrate its life-changing value: “In 2020 during the pandemic, I got a text message from our re-job program coordinator who shared with me a testimony from a young man who was working on an environmental remediation project in upstate New York. The text message essentially went like this, ‘Today is Memorial Day. I am here away from my family but I am okay with it because I am making $47 per hour and I can support my family for the first time in a way that I don’t have to look over my shoulder legally and it does something to make my family proud of me and I am a better husband, father and provider for this’.”
“That right there, when I think about it, I get a little choked up, because that is the epitome of what you do in a leadership role and how you impact lives in your community,” said Jones. “And when you provide these opportunities for people in the community that have been shut out, that’s when you become a change agent and it has a ripple effect– that’s the human service side of me; I’ve been a human service advocate for many years.”
Jones’ human services advocacy includes service as Eastside Community Center’s board president and involvement in the center’s merger with The Community Place. He has also served on the boards of Urban Choice Charter School and the Salvation Army. “I am very in tune with my community; so if I can sprinkle a little bit of human service and some social equity in what we do as part of environmental services, that’s a win-win.”
DES completed or started some of Rochester’s notable physical changes in modern history under Jones’ watch. Completed projects include Inner Loop East; the Port of Rochester Marina; the International Plaza at La Marketa; the ROC City Skatepark; and the Rochester Public Market expansion. Projects initiated with Jones’ involvement include Inner Loop North; more than a dozen ROC the Riverway projects and the Eastman Trail. Also, the ROC the Riverway program is traceable to the early days of Jones’ tenure, when he began sounding the alarm that significant elements of waterfront infrastructure would be closed to the public if they did not receive tens of millions of dollars in upgrades.
Jones’ mother and father were highly influential in his formation as a community leader.
“I was raised by a Marine Corp drill sergeant, and my mother held Bible study class in our home and was a Sunday school teacher. Those are the values that were instilled in me at a young age,” Jones said. ” My father had this, you know, ‘It’s either right or wrong; there’s no gray area; always do the right thing,’; and my mother said, ‘Forgiveness is the most powerful thing you can do, and you always deal with people with respect and grace and mercy.'”
“My father would say, ‘This is what you have to do, and if I have to tell you to do it– it’s too late,’ and my mother– her precedent was being caring and [using] the Golden Rule,” Jones stated, adding, “This is how I really try to live my life. I care about the city and what I do; I also care a lot about people and being able to help change their lives in whatever way possible.”
Jones was born and raised in Rochester, attended RCSD Schools and the University of Buffalo. He credits “many people in [his] life and career who have helped him”– Ann Camelio, Rick Saltrelli, Ed Doherty, Lovely Warren, Bill Johnson and Paul McFadden are among those he says were “really instrumental” in molding him.