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Retirement looms for longtime Santa Rosa utilities, parks chiefs

Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 1:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 1:49 p.m.

The directors of two of the largest Santa Rosa city departments will be retiring in December.

Miles Ferris, director of the Utilities Department, steps down Dec. 12, and Marc Richardson, director of Recreation and Parks, will retire 10 days later.

Both men have worked for the city for 27 years.

Ferris was hired in 1985 to run a department in crisis. The city's wastewater treatment plant had just released 750 million of treated wastewater into the Russian River, earning Santa Rosa the moniker “Sewage City.”

Residents of surrounding communities didn't hide their outrage. “Manure Man” dumped a load of waste in front of Santa Rosa City Hall. Windows were shot out at the Llano Road treatment plant. And police stood guard over the endless meetings about how to fix the problem.

The spill helped persuade state water quality regulators to require Santa Rosa to develop a disposal system independent of weather conditions.

Today, instead of 1,000 sewage spills a year, last year the department had just one, Ferris told the council.

And instead of disposing wastewater into the Laguna de Santa Rosa, today 98 percent is recycled. Most is pumped through the $205 million pipeline to The Geysers where 13 billion gallons is injected into the geothermal fields annually to create renewable energy.

Ferris called The Geysers one of the “finest disposal projects imaginable” said praised Santa Rosa for doing the right thing.

“That occurred because we had a great community and elected leaders that weren't afraid to take serious votes, even when it was extremely unpopular to do so,” Ferris said.

They were unpopular because the system upgrades triggered sharply higher water and sewer rates, which in Santa Rosa have more than doubled in the past decade.

During his tenure, the treatment plant was expanded and modernized to handle the sewage of Cotati, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, as well as some unincorporated areas of the county.

The number of residents served by the system has increased from 93,000 in 1985 to about 230,000 today. Ferris has won a number of professional awards during his career.

“Miles has served the City, the ratepayers, and the region well during his tenure as Director of Utilities,” City Manager Kathy Millison said in a statement.

Ferris, 71, made a salary of $169,460, with a benefits package valued at $44,105. A nationwide search for his replacement is under way.

“This is a very key position for the city,” Millison said.

Richardson was also hired in 1985, but it wasn't his first job with the city. At 15 the Santa Rosa native got a summer job as a recreation aide in the city's parks and recreation department. It wasn't long before he landed the coolest assignment in the city – driving the train at Howarth Park.

During college, he also interned with the city's public works department and after working in Salem, Ore. for seven years, was hired by the department as an administrative services officer. He later served as assistant city manager before heading the parks and recreation department in 2003.

During his tenure, Richardson oversaw a number of landmark projects. These include the construction of the Prince Memorial Greenway and park, the renovation of the DeTurk Round Barn and Church of One Tree and the construction of the sports fields at “A Place to Play.”

He also enjoyed working with a local nonprofit to help construct the senior wing of the Finley Community Center, as well as the installation of the shimmering Ned Kahn sculpture on the side of the the AT&T building downtown, he said.

In recent years, however, his department has suffered deep budget cuts and Richardson said it has been a stressful time. He said he was on vacation recently with his wife in Maui and she remarked on how she hadn't seen him smile that much in a long time.

“I just began to get a sense what a toll the last few years have taken on us,” Richardson said. “It just felt like the right time.”

Richardson, 59, made a salary of $154,750, and the city paid another $41,546 in benefits in 2011.

He said he hopes to remain involved in efforts to find a sustainable funding source for city parks, perhaps through the establishment of a non-profit parks foundation, he said.

Millison said she intends to appoint an interim director to run the department until she can review its organizational structure before recruiting a replacement.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @citybeater

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