WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa Fire Chief Mark McCormick announces retirement


Santa Rosa Fire Chief Mark McCormick announced his retirement Thursday after 22 years with the department and 35 years in the fire service.

McCormick, 54, has led the department since 2011 and was credited with helping secure the $3 million federal grant that allowed the department to hire 12 firefighters and open all 10 fire stations full-time.

Mark McCormick.

Mark McCormick.

He will officially retire Dec. 27. The announcement came a week after the city’s other top public safety officer, Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm, disclosed he will retire effective Dec. 20.

“I can’t say enough about how proud I am of our employees,” McCormick said. “Through the economic downturn it was a significant challenge to keep everyone motivated.”

City Manager Kathy Millison said McCormick oversaw several important efforts in his short tenure, including relocating and modernizing the city’s Emergency Operations Center, obtaining grants to invest in technology, developing plans for a new station in the Fountaingrove neighborhood and overseeing the department during a time of high turnover.

Millison said she hopes to hire one firm to handle recruitment for both top posts. The searches are expected to take about five months. Millison and McCormick said they are working on a plan for running the department during that transition. The second in command is Tony Gossner, who has been deputy chief for about a year and a half.

Before working for Santa Rosa, McCormick served for four years as a firefighter with the Air Force and later served in firefighting and hazardous materials management assignments with fire agencies in Southern California and Washington State.

McCormick was hired in Santa Rosa in 1991 as a fire inspector and rose through the ranks to firefighter, captain, deputy chief/fire marshal and served as interim chief for eight months before being appointed to the position.

McCormick’s gross pay in 2012 was $202,193.12, according to city records. Generally speaking, public safety officials are eligible to retire with 3 percent of their pay for each year worked in qualifying retirement systems up to a maximum of 30 years.

McCormick was the city’s 12th fire chief since the department was founded in 1894. He was the first chief promoted from within since 1972 when Michael Turnick took the helm of the department, serving until 1985.

15 Responses to “Santa Rosa Fire Chief Mark McCormick announces retirement”

  1. Paul says:

    What’s the over/under at the Nevada sports books on the number of months till “the chief” is double dipping?
    Not to be simply picking on “the chief”; it simply happens so often I just expect it. Gotta get back to that trough…MORE MORE MORE!

  2. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @DS, my apologies, I was thinking of police, not fire, and further out than 2016. Are the rates in the presentation to council that I reference below showing just City contributions, or both City and Employee?


  3. steve humphrey says:


    Did you really just say that?

    I don’t suspect anyone commenting here wants the Chiefs job. Most of the comments concern how much we, as taxpayers, pay for public employee services.

    If you truly believe these compensation packages are justified and furthermore sustainable then your “gene pool” comment is appropriate.

  4. Robert says:

    So many experts. So little knowledge. You gotta love the shallow end of the Sonoma County gene pool.

    If you qualify for one of these jobs, apply. These are not secrets. All these jobs are on line. I guess it is more fun to sit and complain. Have fun.

  5. Follower says:

    I hope the people of Montana enjoy our taxes.
    ..or Idaho or Arizona or wherever he decides to go with his fists full of OUR CASH!

    BTW… thank you for your service Mr. McCormick

  6. Big Fish says:

    @ David S.

    “If the complaint is that public employees make too much in their salaries and pensions, then say that; don’t distort the alleged cost of it.”

    Firefighters and police are grossly overpaid in salary and more grossly paid in pension funding.”

  7. David Stubblebine says:

    @LBR: Actually, the CalPERS rate for Santa Rosa Fire is more like 38% of salary (employer and employee contributions combined) and expected to go up to about 41% by 2016. These numbers are significantly large nonetheless, but they also cover the “catching up” required by the retirement enhancements you mentioned.

    The new CalPERS Rate Smoothing practices create a rate structure that responds sluggishly with respect to market trends. This is intentional to avoid sudden spikes to the taxpayer due to a market dip, which is what happened in 2008-2009. But the same policy also makes the rates slow to go back down when the market improves. CalPERS performance is generally expected to lag behind Wall Street by 2 to 3 years with the contribution rates lagging behind that by another 2 years or so.

    The upward creep in the rates we are seeing now is still part of the response to the 2008 market dip; but meanwhile the overall 2013 fund performance is significantly up – and following Wall Street sooner than expected. The most recent numbers published by CalPERS (6/30/2013) say the fund is the highest it has ever been and 42% above the 2009 low. In the future anything is possible, of course, but CalPERS recent performance suggests it is far more likely that things are getting better than not. If so, employer rates should start coming back down within a few years (but never returning to zero like they were in the Superfunded days).

  8. Reality Check says:


    I believe the accepted pension shortfall was put at $100 million. But that’s based on CalPers’ projections, not traditionally conservative pension accounting. I suspect the shortfall is understated.

    Yep, we’ve acknowledged that the city didn’t contribute during “superfunded” years, and public employee unions said “me to” and negotiated additional benefits. There’s plenty of blame to go around here.

    I’ve never thought unions alone owned this problem, just that pensions should be fully funded–using conservative acctg rules. And if they were, pensions would be a lot less generous than they are currently.

  9. GAJ says:

    “In 2011, (Santa Rosa) had 1,193 active workers and 1,096 retirees. In three or four years, the number of retirees will probably surpass the number of active workers, Bartel said.

    That’s not a problem by itself if enough money is set aside, he said. But average annual retirement payments are also on the rise. In 2003, the average retirement payment for nonpublic safety workers rose 58 percent, from $20,300 to $32,200. For police that figure was 49 percent, increasing from $36,900 to $55,200. For firefighters that figure was 69 percent, rising from $41,000 to $69,200.

    Councilman Gary Wysocky noted that of the $12.3 million in additional costs expected by 2020, about $9 million would come from the city’s general fund, while the balance would be borne by ratepayers. But he said that assumes a flat salary budget, which he said is not reasonable, meaning the increases are likely to be even higher.

    The problem is the city will face a $9 million increase in pension costs the same year that Measure P, the general quarter-cent sales tax that brings in about $7 million per year, will expire.

    “That’s quite a hurdle,” he said.”


  10. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @RC – actually, in general, the City’s pension fund is paid fully as it accrues. CalPERS has actuaries who calculate based on current workforce age and estimated investment return what will be needed to fund the future retirements. The big glitch happened when the fund was “superfunded” and the City stopped paying into the system at all for a few years. On top of that, pension plans were made more generous, without the City paying the prior unfunded liability that was created by doing so. The laws have changed, so neither of these can happen now. The problem now is that to fully pay “as it accrues,” it will soon cost almost 50% of a public-safety employee’s salary to do so. For miscellaneous employees, that figure will move to around 30%, which is further offset by the 8% in salary cuts that they gave to get the better pension. These amounts were made worse because of the City’s past practices. The question is where to go from here. Fire has agreed to start paying 12%, but that will still leave 38% for the City. According to the law passed last year by Gov Brown, public employees should be paying 50% of any defined benefit pension plan, which means Fire would need to increase their contribution to 25% in the not-to-distant future, or agree to a lesser plan. It will also be interesting to see what happens to San Jose’s plan to limit future pension accruals. This has to go through the courts. It would not affect existing accruals, so if someone had worked for 20 years, and then worked another 10 years after the change, they would get the higher benefit for those 20 years, and then a lower benefit for the last 10 years. This also seems to be what Gov Brown was calling for.

  11. David Stubblebine says:

    I am not trying to say public pensions are cheap; they’re not. Steveguy implies the chief’s 200K salary is a lot; it is. But remember, if his pension were not part of his benefit package, then his salary would probably be more like 250K so what’s the difference?

    The question is asked “He can’t save on his own?” I say: He did. He negotiated for part of his benefit package to be contributed into a non-public fund where fund managers (working for salaries limited by state law instead of the sky’s-the-limit commissions & bonuses private brokers get for managing 401k’s) prudently invest the money. This lets the chief enjoy a secure pension primarily paid for from this fund comprised of his own contributions plus investment returns (not tax money). The CalPERS fund is growing, not shrinking; it has fully recovered from the 2008 slump and is now larger than it has ever been before. The fund is as sustainable as the US economy. If the economy tanks, then the fund will too; but until then, I think a well invested $258 Billion should hold us for my lifetime and my children’s lifetime.

    PS: The above comments relate to CalPERS pensions; County pensions are a different kettle of fish.

  12. David Stubblebine says:

    Every pension related story triggers a flurry of the same inflammatory half-truths. When talking about the chief’s pension obligation, why not mention the fact that the bulk of the public money supporting it has already been spent in contributions made over the course of his career? His regular contributions are no longer a public obligation in any sense. And when throwing out the artificial and inflated numbers for unfunded liabilities, why not state that the bulk of that future obligation will be paid out of returns on investments and not taxpayer dollars? These things are true and they are significant to a fair and balanced understanding of the public pension issue; yet they continue to be obscured.

    If the complaint is that public employees make too much in their salaries and pensions, then say that; don’t distort the alleged cost of it.

  13. Reality Check says:

    “Sustainable ? I think not.”

    Not likely. Most of the burden will be borne by the next generation, which makes it easy for the council to promise these benefits. No one today is required to pay for them.

    Flip that around, make employee and public fund fully retirement benefits as they accrue, and this Ponzi scheme comes to an abrupt end.

    But that would depend on something other than the low-information voters that dominate Sonoma County.

  14. Steveguy says:

    Lets do math. He ‘retires at 54 with us on the hook for OVER $150,000 per year.( Counting Medical) When he is 70 he will have reaped $2.5 million more. Yes two and a half MILLION. Over $10,000 a month !

    He was making more that $200K !! He can’t save on his own ?

    Sustainable ? I think not.

  15. Promotion from within is the best policy to serve Communities, as you and Chief Turnick have proved. Congratulations.