DENVER, Colo. — Melissa Elliott of Greenwood Village, Colo., began her one-year term as president of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Tuesday during a live-streamed gavel passing ceremony hosted at AWWA’s Denver headquarters. The ceremony is available to view online.
The Presidential Gavel Passing Ceremony usually takes place at AWWA’s Annual Conference and Exposition, but it was conducted virtually this year after the conference was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elliott is director of strategic communication services at Raftelis, where she consults with utilities across the United States. She has been an AWWA member for over 15 years, during which time she has served as chair of the Public Affairs Council. She has also served as trustee and chair of AWWA’s Rocky Mountain Section.
During her term as president of the largest association of water professionals in the world, Elliott said she will concentrate on three themes: economics, engagement and equity. She highlighted the financial challenges that water utilities, water sector businesses and consumers will experience due to the pandemic; the importance of engaging with one another in new ways in a socially distanced world; and advancing an inclusive, diverse water sector that ensures equity.
“As a public relations professional, my entire career is about bringing people together to engage,” she said in her remarks. “I still fervently hope for in-person meetings that feel a bit more normal, but virtual engagement is here to stay, and as a profession that has often struggled with communication to our customers and explaining the value of what we do to the public, this may be what we need to leap forward in meeting these challenges.”
Addressing the ongoing anti-racism protests in the United States, Elliott pointed out that “generations have sought the changes that are happening now.”
“Racial bias and discrimination are real, and the water sector is not immune,” she said. “Fortunately, AWWA has leaders that can speak to this issue with authenticity. I look forward to working with them to advance an inclusive, diverse water sector that ensures equity.”
Read more about what Elliott will focus on during her term as president in the June 19 issue of AWWA Connections.
Elliott accepted the gavel from now Immediate Past President Jim Williams of Mishawaka, Ind.
“An observation [Alexis] De Toqueville made was that one of the greatest strengths in American society was the extensive network of volunteer associations,” Williams said. “AWWA has certainly helped keep that tradition alive as we positively impact public health and the environment each and every day.”