By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Phil Demery, Sonoma County’s director of transportation and public works, has announced he plans to retire a year from now.
Demery, 57, who told county supervisors of his plans Tuesday, said the decision was a matter of timing. By next August, he will have served more than 29 years in local government, including 24 years in Santa Barbara County and more than five years at the helm of Sonoma County’s Transportation and Public Works Department.
Demery said state ballot initiatives next year that could affect retirement benefits for government employees by capping or reducing pensions also played a part in his decision.
“We do need to look at (pension system) reforms,” he said.
He added, however, that an initiative-driven overhaul of public-sector retirement benefits could be “pretty radical” and affect current public workers, especially long-time, top-level employees who stand to receive the largest pensions.
“You never know what’s going to end up on the ballot,” he said.
Demery is the second county department leader to announce retirement plans in the past three months. Jo Weber, the director of the Human Services Department, said in May that she plans to retire next year.
Both Demery and Weber qualify for a county perk that boosts their final year’s salary by 5 percent in exchange for providing notice 12 months before retirement. The benefit goes to appointed department heads with at least three consecutive years in their position and five years with the county.
Demery’s gross 2010 pay was $204,218, including $40,217 in vacation, sick time, holiday hours, car and cash allowances. He also receives $9,713 a year in deferred compensation, medical benefits of $7,460 and the county pays $66,653 a year into his retirement account. The total package is $288,044.
Upon her retirement, Weber, 57, will have worked in local and state government for 39 years, including nearly seven and a half years with the county — almost six of those as human services director. Her gross pay in 2010 was $192,842. Her total pay and benefits package was $278,278.
County officials said they would be sad to see both leaders go.
Demery has overseen county infrastructure during a tumultuous time for public sector transportation funding.
Support for roads — drawn primarily from gas taxes — has been flat during his tenure, when Sonoma County’s rural roads were ranked either worst or second worst in the nine-county Bay Area.
Demery said he was disappointed with that ranking while noting that the county’s overall road conditions have not deteriorated over the same period, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
“We’ve held our own while other (counties) have dropped,” he said.
His tenure has also been marked by two large ongoing infrastructure projects: the bid to expand the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport with longer runways, a new passenger terminal, relocated control tower and air cargo facility; and a back-and-forth battle over the future of the county’s central landfill, which after being shuttered in 2005 for water quality concerns was nearly put up for sale.
Supervisors ultimately decided to retain the landfill in county ownership, and the county now is trying to reopen it permanently.
Demery said expanding road upkeep and projects connected to solid waste will be priorities during the remainder of his tenure. Solid waste issues include a move to boost recycling and reuse of garbage and discussions on a regional landfill agreement among the county’s 10 local governments.
“My desire is to be either completed with those or well down the line with them by the time I leave,” he said.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane said Demery’s departure would be a loss for the county. “He’s stepped in at a really tough time and has managed to do a great job,” she said.
Demery was public works director for Santa Barbara County from 1994 to 2007. He has served as president of both the County Engineers Association of California and the National Association of County Engineers.
He said his plans after stepping down may include work outside of government or volunteering.