After more than three decades of serving the city of Palestine, Public Works Director Tim Perry is retiring. He's going home to the house he built for him and his wife in Bois d'arc, 20 miles north of Palestine, 35 years ago.
For Perry, 54, however, retirement doesn't mean rest.
“I've got some irons in the fire,” Perry said, sitting at his desk in his trademark suspenders; his office sparsely decorated in a cowboy theme. “I'm not ready to put my feet up just yet.”
If anyone has earned the right to put their feet up, some might say, it's Perry. No stranger to hard work, Perry was a roustabout in the oilfields right out of high school. In the two years following that, he laid concrete for a living before opening a concrete business of his own.
Having learned handyman and contracting work from his father, a building contractor, Perry took those skills to the city of Palestine in 1987, where he applied for a job as temporary maintenance worker.
More than three decades later, Perry was named public works director, one of the highest paid positions in the city, earning more than $93,000 a year.
In his time with the city, Perry's has worked as an equipment operator, truck driver, street foreman, street superintendent, and interim public works supervisor. At each step, Perry said, he not only learned a necessary skill, but was schooled in leadership by observing his supervisors.
“Like everyone, I've had some really great – and some not-so great supervisors,” he said. “I try to emulate the good qualities, while making sure I don't acquire the bad ones.”
Street Department Supervisor John Elrod said Perry is the idea boss.
“I've worked with Tim since 1992,” Elrod told the Herald-Press. “He's been a great person to work for. Everything one looks for in a boss, Tim's got.”
As a supervisor, Elrod said, he likes to lead by example; a quality he said he learned by following Perry's own example.
“There's some anxiety going forward,” he said. “This is going to be a big loss to the city. He has so much knowledge, and now that resource will no longer be here.”
Perry's retirement comes as the city grapples with multiple projects, including street repairs and a water treatment facility that does not comply with state standards
Felipe Garcia, Perry's deputy director of utilities, told the Herald-Press the city will continue to function, but it will take everyone in public works a while to get up to speed in Perry's absence.
“He carried a lot of the load on his own shoulders,” Garcia, who has worked with Perry for years said. “There won't be anything we can't handle, but at the same time, I don't think anyone will be able to fill his shoes.”
The admiration, Perry said, goes both ways.
“We have some truly great employees here at public works,” he said. “I believe I am going to miss them, and the residents of this city the most.”
Of his many accomplishments, creating an atmosphere that allowed his employees to think outside the box, Perry said, is what makes him the most proud.
Two of the most cost-saving plans brought about by Perry's crew have been the installation of a new impeller system at the wastewater treatment plant last year, and a new system of repairing roads using a product called “P-2.”
“Ben Day, the chief operator and crew leader at the wastewater plant, came up with the idea of the DeRagger II impeller,” Perry said, with the tone of a proud father. “It has saved the city at least $3,000 a week in maintenance costs since it was installed.”
The P-2 project was the brainchild of Deputy Director Robert Thames, Perry said. However, although the asphalt-laying system would build a quality road at a lower cost than currently used traditional methods, Perry said City Council members voted not to adopt the process.
“I really hope the city changes their mind and uses the P-2,” Elrod said. “It is a proven better product than the asphalt we're using, and it's cheaper to build and maintain.”
City Manager Leslie Cloer told the Herald Press the city might not fill Perry's vacant position this year.
“We are going to take a little time to evaluate staffing needs with the Public Works Department,” she said.
Meantime, Cloer said, Deputy Director Rob Thames will take charge of streets; Deputy Director Felipe Garcia will oversee utilities.
Perry agreed with Cloer that a staffing evaluation is necessary, but hopes the city will consider hiring an engineer.
“With the amount of high-dollar projects we either have going or need to start, it just makes sense,” he said. “The engineer could even work as sort of the public works director – or not – but bringing on an engineer is a good idea.”
Of all the positions he's held in the city, Perry said it's difficult to say which he has enjoyed the most. The best part of the job, he said, though, was interacting with city residents.
“Whenever I was on a job, be it with streets, utilities or whatever, it always made my day when a resident would stop and say thank you,” he said. “That's what it's all about – that's what makes it worthwhile – that's what I'm truly going to miss.”
Perry's last day as public works director will be July 26.