HOLLYWOOD — Seminole Tribe Public Works Director Derek Koger is one of only 55 individuals chosen statewide to participate in Leadership Florida’s annual program this year. Founded in 1982, Leadership Florida’s mission is to find committed individuals and enhance their leadership skills through an eight-month educational program in which they learn about issues critical to the state. Throughout the year, the class will network and build relationships that will serve them and the state throughout their careers.
The selection committee looks for up-and-coming leaders who are most likely to utilize their abilities for the long-term benefit of Florida. Participants represent a broad spectrum of professional, geographic, and ethnic backgrounds.
“It’s very competitive and people say if you don’t get in the first time, keep trying,” said Koger, 34. “It was a blessing to get in the first time. My goal is to enhance my skills as a leader. It will be a great learning experience and an opportunity to mingle with individuals from different industries. I’m looking forward to representing the Seminole Tribe and bringing awareness of some of the great things we are doing here to the other participants and leaders throughout the state.”
During the Aug. 12 Tribal Council meeting, Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. announced Koger was selected to participate in the program.
“They meet six times a year in different cities with the goal of making Florida a better place,” Councilman Bowers said. “Now the Tribe will be included in those discussions. Derek is one of the young leaders we have in the Tribe and one of the leaders that looks out for the Tribe.”
“Once admitted, you become part of this organization for life,” Koger said. “The network of people available to the Tribe grew by 1,600 people at various political and professional levels throughout the state. When we need guidance or a helping hand, we’ll have people to call on. Especially in our industry, we can learn from other people’s professional experience.”
Alumni of the program include the top echelon of business, politics, non-profit organizations, health care institutions, academics and state agencies. Together, they serve on more than 5,000 boards of companies and organizations around the state.
Koger’s selection in his first attempt is evidence of his qualifications as a leader. Under his leadership, every Public Works operator has become licensed in his or her field (water, wastewater, etc.). The department has developed a culture of education and professionalism. Koger makes sure Public Works stays on the cutting edge of the industry while meeting the needs of communities it serves. This focus led to his being honored with the Thomas T. Jones Public Education Award from the Florida Water Environment Association in recognition of his efforts to educate the public about water utility management.
“Producing safe and healthy drinking water to the community is something that our team takes great pride in,” he said. “Being good stewards of the Tribe’s resources is something we really take to heart.”
Koger is also a leader in the community. He volunteers for several organizations that help underprivileged populations, including the Urban League of Broward County, the juvenile justice system and Chaka’s Stars Foundation in Okeechobee.
While Koger believes education is important, he is also realistic and stated that he “wants to let people know they don’t necessarily need an advanced degree to make a good living and provide for their families.” Koger, referencing industry journals, cited a staggering statistic, “between 30 and 50 percent of the people in the public works field are retiring in the next five years.”
“We need to go out and educate people in the community that these jobs are available and show them that they can support their families with a career in public works,” he said.
An Okeechobee High School graduate, Koger grew up in Okeechobee and attended school with Tribal citizens. He came to work for the Tribe shortly after graduating from the University of South Florida in Tampa in 2004. He later earned a Master degree in Public Administration from Florida International University. While he had originally planned to go to law school, he “fell in love” with public works, his team, and the communities he and his team serve.
“I appreciate that my peers and colleagues in the state acknowledge my efforts in the department and my volunteer efforts to give back to the community,” Koger said. “It’s a humbling experience.”