WatchSonoma Watch

County public works director to retire next year

Phil Demery


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.

22 Responses to “County public works director to retire next year”

  1. County worker says:


    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  2. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: County Worker – “The county pays $500 a month, I pay $1200 additional each month.”

    Since your posting dollars and cents, why not post your hourly wage? That $1,200 per month you’re paying for medical equates to $7.5 per hour, so I’d like to see just what percentage of your hourly wage that represents.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  3. County worker says:

    Now you see the difference between the county and city employees. City paychecks are considerabley higher than county paychecks because county employees DO pay for the majority of their midical and a bigger chun of their retirement system.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  4. Jim says:

    As for giveaways and welfare….oh that’s a can of worms that shouldn’t be opened. I’m 100% for a complete elimination of ALL programs in CA with a redo/start over. There is so much fraud in the system it is ridiculous. Now, we both know this will never happen. The unions and the left in CA will never cut programs because they use them to buy votes.

    Do some reading when the media and their definition of a “cut” in a program. When a program gets an 8% increase this year and only a 4% increase next year, the media claims a 50% CUT in the program, even though there was still an increase in the funding.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  5. Jim says:

    Laying off all government workers is only “illegal” because the union controls the politicians. A company going bankrupt can lay off everyone is they need to. California is an “at will” state, meaning an employer doesn’t need cause to lay someone off. Again, your claim of illegality is because of the union control of public jobs.

    If the city, county, state or Feds declare bankruptcy, the contracts with the unions are gone. Just like what happened in Vallejo when they declared bankruptcy. They gave up when pensions paid to retirees were 80% of the collected “revenue”. It is only a matter of time before this happens everywhere.

    You are speaking of current payments. The unfunded liability for pensions isn’t reported. It is an accounting trick. The Feds show a deficit of $1.2T this year. However estimates of the unfunded pension liability puts the actual deficit near $50T. Yes, $50 trillion! You won’t read that in the papers while Obama is in office. You have to dig through the public budget documents to come up with the figures.

    As for retraining…give me a break. There may be a couple jobs that are specialized but the vast majority of public jobs are no different than any private job. There are 10 people with the same skills for each public job that could step in and be up to speed in a week.

    20%? Where does that 20% figure come from? Current Santa Rosa police officers pay NOTHING for medical and their pension. I know a half dozen of them and have intimate knowledge of their paychecks and W-2s. I also know cops in Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Alameda, the Sheriffs Department, San Francisco and Redding. Don’t feed some some BS line about the benefits they pay for.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7

  6. County Worker says:

    The total amount put into the pension fund is closer to 20%. So it isnt that far from the 25%. As for medical. The county pays $500 a month, I pay $1200 additional each month. Not crying, just the cost of doing business. Gov’t pays my salary. I do a job for that. They get something for my pay. How many gov’t giveaways get cost? No give back. The pension system is set for reform. It wont be gutted but the long term costs will go down so don’t stroke out. I see the waste at all levels and don’t get upset about pensions. Pensions at the state level are just over 7% of the budget. SEVEN. Giveaways and welfare are almost 50%… FIFTY. You are barking up the wrong tree.
    As for the suggestion of firing everyone and rehire with low pay and no benefits. Sorry, it is illegal. Besides, who would train the new people?? You think computer reprogram themselves? Fire trucks run on automatic? Crimes solve themselves? You think anyone would stick around after that? I would get back my contributions into my retirement when they fired me, and I would be gone. No, you would not be able to keep my money, that would be stealing. That is bad.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  7. Still Waters says:

    Gettin’ out while the gettin’ is good? Pension reform is a great thing for everyone but the top cats. County employees have gone to the Board of Supervisors and asked that they stop giving 5% bonuses & freeze or cut back on the deferred comp to the top administration. But the CAO says it’s up to the employees to find a way to reduce pension costs while most employees retire with only about $25,000 annually and a $500/mo contribution from the County for their health care premiums. Seems the County is all for competitve salaries and benefits to attract top administrators while IHSS workers who provide in-home care for the less fortunate in our community work for $10/hr with no benefits. Yet, for all these lavish benefits, we see most of these top administrators leaving after less than 10 years with Sonoma County. Serving the County for 30 years at the top of an organization deserves appropriate compensation. 6 or 7 years is a pit stop.

    Yes, there will be a exodus of those at the top of many organizations because of pension reform. But if you really want pension reform and fiscally responsible government, let’s go one more step. Let’s make sure their replacements know this is a PUBLIC SERVICE job and make pay & benefits appropriate. This County should not be landing place for those only seeking to build wealth and pad retirement benefits. It should be a County where ALL employees know they serve the public, not themselves.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  8. Jim says:

    What a lot of people don’t understand is the pension increases the actual net pay. As a private worker, I save 25% of my salary in hopes of possibly having something to live on, and something to pay the ridiculous medical expenses, in retirement. A “public worker” doesn’t have to save anything because the pension is guaranteed. There is no need to save 25%. So that is a 25% increase in their salary vs a private worker like me.

    I hear the public workers crying all the time…”I have to put 8% of my salary away…” cry me a river. That 8% isn’t subject to market risk like a private worker’s 25% placed in a 401k. That 8% isn’t subject to the massive medical premiums like a private worker’s 25%.

    There are SO many people out of work where if our elected stupid-visors would grow a set and lay off ALL workers, they’d be able to re-hire immediately. The new positions could have a 25% lower salary and no pension, just a 457 plan. This would lead to a balanced budget. Yet because the unions can easily manipulate the politicians, this never is even suggested.

    There is NO way the current system can be sustained. None. Just run the numbers. It is impossible to continue to pay people these exorbitant salaries and massive pensions. At what point do people realize that basically every position in government has at least two salaries…the current worker and the retiree with the pension.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 8

  9. County worker says:

    Not that many care about the math.. It would be 2% at 50 and 2.5 % at 55… Remember this is a top manager making 400-500% more than his employees. They will get on average about $35000 a year and $500 a month towards medical. There are welfare moms out there making over $50K… Which is more lucrative?

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  10. Jim says:

    Refer to my previous post…both these clowns will get $5,000,000+ in retirement PAY, not including medical. And there are a couple people posting in support of this???

    Yet the politicians get all upset over CEO “golden parachutes”? What is this? A lifetime, guaranteed monthly payment for LIFE is easily as good as a lump sum payment that will be ripped by 50% in taxes.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

  11. Jim says:

    So lets do the math…I figure he gets 2.5% at 50. That’s 97.5% of his salary for NOT working. So he’ll get $199,875/year ($16,656/month) for NOT working for the taxpayers any longer. Figuring he’ll live to 85 years old, that calculates to $4,996,875 in pension (NOT INCLUDING MEDICAL!!!!!).

    To recap…the County, i.e. the TAXPAYERS, will pay this guy nearly $5,000,000 to do NOTHING for us. He’ll no longer do nothing in the office, just do nothing at home, or on vacation, or anywhere he wants because the taxpayers are TOO FREAKING STUPID TO NOTICE!

    To make matters even more hilarious…The County will hire another overpaid clown at a similar rate, say $200,000/year, and the cost to the taxpayers for this position would be over $400,000/year!!! Sounds reasonable to me.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  12. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: bear – “Good luck on finding their replacements.”

    Right. The unemployment rate in Sonoma County is close to 10%. Factor in underemployment and people who gave up looking, the true rate may be over 30%. Then look at all of California and the cuts affecting both private and public sector jobs.

    The only hard part of hiring a replacement will be processing 400-600 applications for the job.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  13. Jim says:

    “Good luck finding their replacement”??

    Is that a joke? I guarantee you that if the salary was reduced and the pension eliminated, there would be 50 qualified applicants for this position within hours of it being posted.

    Remember, government workers at his level get basically guaranteed raises every year. Layoffs? Get real. The only place in Obama’s economy that is hiring is the government.

    The people are just too stupid to see that we are beyond the point of no return.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

  14. Jim says:


    These people are leeches. 39 years in government? That alone should be a crime. I’m dumbfounded that these stories NEVER end but the idiot voters keep agreeing to increase the size of the government.

    He says we need to reform the pension system, while collecting a massive check. He gets a 5% BONUS for telling the government he is resigning in a year. WHAT!?!?! Who agrees to this? Why are people putting up with this crap?

    We have 50% of new births to minorities. We have 57+% of “immigrant” families on government assistance. We have thieves like this who are overpaid for 39 years (!!) and over benefitted (for 39 years!!!). There is NO WAY that this country won’t go bankrupt. NONE. This is unsustainable.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

  15. County worker says:

    Don’t worry people. As more restrictions are put on public employee retiree benefits, not private, the more will leave. I suspect there will be a mass exeodus just prior to the new laws going into effect. Then there will be hundreds of county and city jobs and thousands of state jobs available for all who want them. They just won’t come with the same retirement benefits of today. When the new ones come on board, they will be warned that as soon as a few people think they are making too much, they WILL be attacked. God forbid anyone get ahead in this world. I am sure limits on private income will be next, comrads.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 7

  16. I Was Just Thinking says:

    Another overpaid, under worked county bureaucrat tells the County to take this job and shove it.

    It’s always good to go out with a chip on your shoulder and a “I got mine” attitude. My question is, why wait? Clean out the desk tomorrow and tell the secretary you won’t be available for lunch, ever.

    He comments on the county roads condition, but doesn’t comment on the green and PC projects the Board of Supervisors sets as priorities. I will bet his gets a green award for his good green work. Mean while back on the roads, its bumpy.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 3

  17. Dogs Rule says:

    I’m very annoyed that Sonoma County failed to buy him a going-away house, new Mercedes, a gold watch and a lifetime supply of champagne, too. County job retirement benefits are slippin’ these days.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 7

  18. bear says:

    Lots of public employees are going to do this, or have already done it.

    Any one of you who was qualified could have done the same jobs with the same reduced salaries and the same promises about retirement benefits. What about this can you not understand?

    The people who make public employees into greedy bloodsuckers are pushing thousands into retirement.

    Good luck on finding their replacements.

    Hey, go for the lowest bidder on government services. But remember you get what you pay for.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 13

  19. Chris says:

    Hopefully I can get a job at one of his vacation properties…

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  20. RAW says:

    Let me get this straight. He retires now for a certain amount of money, or he stays longer for less money. HHHMMMM. How hard is that to figure out. Anyone who put decades into a retirement system and was faced with that choice, would do the same. Anyone who didn’t was a complete idiot. Anyone who says they wouldn’t do the same is a liar, or the aforementioned idiot.

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 1

  21. ODB414 says:

    In other words: I got mine. Good luck suckers!

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 4

  22. GAJ says:

    What hypocrisy; stiff the taxpayer and the next generation of public employees and laugh all the way to the bank.

    Isn’t the Baby Boomer generation of “leaders”, (my generation), wonderful?

    “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.”

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 5

Leave a Reply