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WUCA’s pit bull

Service Provider of the Year

Richard Wanta, Wisconsin Underground Contractors Association

Richard Wanta (Photo by Corey Hengen)

Don’t be fooled by Richard Wanta’s quiet demeanor, friends and colleagues say, because the longtime executive director of the Wisconsin Underground Contractors Association Inc. isn’t one to walk away from a fight.

“He’s kind of like an affectionate pit bull,” said Thomas Scheider of Waukesha-based R&R Insurance Services Inc., an associate member of WUCA, which is based in Milwaukee.

Wanta has spent 23 years fighting for WUCA members’ rights. Whether challenging local bid preference laws or pushing for industrywide use of Diggers Hotline Inc., Wanta is in it for the long haul, said Brian Mitchell, WUCA lobbyist.

“With legislation, you don’t always get everything on the first try,” Mitchell said. “But Dick hasn’t given up and he won’t give up. He’ll be back — you can count on that.”

Twenty years ago, transmission facility owners such as electric and natural gas providers were not required to be members of Diggers Hotline, a one-call system that alerts workers to underground and overhead utility lines before they dig. Wanta pushed hard for mandatory participation, Mitchell said, and in the mid-1990s, then-Gov. Tommy Thompson signed state legislation requiring all transmission facility owners to join Diggers Hotline.

“Dick had to take that on,” Mitchell said. “He has been an advocate always for the safety of not only the contractors, but the general public, as well.”

In recent years, Wanta has been pushing back against local bidder preference laws such as a city law that gives Milwaukee-based companies a 5 percent bidding cushion, with a cap of $25,000, when bidding on city contracts.

“He’s been one of the staunchest defenders of competitive bid laws,” Mitchell said. “He’s really been in the forefront of trying to protect those laws.”

Though Wanta was not able to prevent the law from passing, he fought hard for the $25,000 cap, Mitchell said.

“His style is low-key, but effective,” he said. “Dick’s always been a great communicator, stating in unequivocal terms the interests of his members. There’s never a doubt what his position is.”

In addition to the legislative battles he wages on behalf of WUCA, Wanta organizes safety programs, fundraisers and a newsletter for the organization’s members.

“Dick is very dedicated,” Scheider said. “He just pours all of himself into the association.”

And Wanta is good at holding down expenses for the organization, he said.

“He’s always trying to get the biggest bang for WUCA members’ buck,” Scheider said.

Wanta’s background as an administrator for the village of Hortonville and later city administrator for St. Francis provided a solid foundation for his work at WUCA, Mitchell said.

“He knows how the system works,” he said. “He’s got a breadth of experience and knowledge.”

Wanta hasn’t begun talking about retirement yet, Scheider said, but when the time comes, there will be many sorry to see him go.

“The day he rides off into the sunset,” he said, “will be sad day.”

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