Brad Palmer, the director of Lake County Public Works, announced his retirement effective July 7 after 25 years of serving Lake County in various roles. The Herald sat down with Palmer as he prepared for his last full week on the job to ask about his time in the role, what he learned in his years of service and what’s next for the Palmers as he enters retirement.
You were the director of Lake County Public Works for 17 years. What was your time as director like?
When I was hired on, I was hired on as an operator and a welder. I worked there for, oh, maybe six months when one of the directors, he quit. Me and another guy co-directed for about two months. He couldn’t handle the personnel issues and said, “I’m done,” so it all came under me — road, bridge and landfill. Ken Olsen, Mike Hickman and Carl Schaefer were the commissioners that I dealt with. We had lunch in the basement of the Senior Center one afternoon and we talked about forming Public Works, me taking over a couple of the departments, and in the end, we did. I oversaw recreation, maintenance, road and bridge and the landfill at that time.
What were some of the challenges you faced in maintaining Lake County’s infrastructure while in the position?
Money. That’s one of your biggest challenges. Equipment has been a challenge, updating your equipment. We’re not putting a lot of money into repairs, you know. On the money part, it’s just Lake County. We don’t have that kind of money that Jefferson County or Douglas County have, you know, or Summit County for that matter. Infrastructure, as we hear in the United States, it is deteriorating. Our infrastructure, for Road and Bridge, is our culverts and water flow. Lake County could definitely use a stormwater system where we dump all the water some place besides everybody’s yard, you know, that would be nice. Challenges with employees. Not keeping employees, hiring new employees with the CDL drug testing. Drug testing in Colorado, that’s kind of a double negative, so that was a challenge on maintaining stuff.
Did you enjoy anything about the role?
You know, I did. I enjoyed taking care of the taxpayers of Lake County. That’s what I enjoyed about the role. My communication, my openness, the friends I made, listening to what they had to say, you know, that was important. The position I was in in the county, I was very well known. I would have people call me about CDOT highway, I would have people call me about city streets, people call me about everything that needed to be done on a road just because of my status, so that was always good to know that.
What did you learn about Lake County as the director of Public Works?
I learned that this is a very giving community. I learned that the county government, particularly Road and Bridge because of our equipment, we were able to help the community build stuff and help the community out like that. I learned to grow my skin a little thicker. People like making comments and challenging me, but that’s part of life, you know? I learned to bite my tongue. I learned the Public Works director has a big role. I learned to work within a small budget and to try to make the best decisions we can.
What do you want Lake County residents to know about their roads and infrastructure, and the work you and the department have done to maintain them?
Asphalt is our biggest asset in Lake County. To improve pavement in our county, we’re going to need help from the taxpayers. Our infrastructure in Lake County is pretty solid. Our roads are getting better. We’ve done great on dust control.
What advice would you give to the next person to fill the role?
Continue to build a good team, stand firm on your decisions and treat the community with respect.
What’s next for you as you enter retirement?
I’ve got property up in Montana, my brother’s building me a garage as we speak. I’m going up to Montana in a small community called Fairfield — 800 people. My brother will be kitty-corner across the street from me, and he loves to fish, I love to fish, so we’ll do some fishing, scooter riding and shooting my gun. We’re going to winter in Arizona — we’re going to be snowbirds. We’ll find a place to park our fifth-wheel trailer, and we’re going to stay down there for about five months. Everybody says we’re going from a 1,700-square-foot house to a 40-by-8 foot fifth wheel, how’s that going to be? It’s going to be fine. I’m finding my wants and needs. I’ve always wanted to go back east and see friends that used to work for me. During the summer, I can hook onto my trailer and we can do that now. I don’t have to come back to work and say, “Oh I got this to do this week and that to do next week,” so I’m looking forward to just some peace.
Any last words as the Director of Public Works? Any first words as a retiree?
I guess my last words would be to thank the community for how supportive they were through some of our trials and tribulations my wife and I went through. First words for retirement: I don’t have to report to anybody, that’s what I’m looking forward to. No commitments.
Lake County has been good. You have the one-percenters, but you’ll never change those that dislike you, and I really don’t care. I still am going to try to do the Memorial Day service. We’ll still probably do the Nick Palmer award at the high school, but all that can be done out of the living room of my trailer. It’s bittersweet for me to leave. I’m happy for myself and I’m sad I’m leaving Leadville.