Jim Brozena said he will retire from Luzerne County government Jan. 11 after more than three decades overseeing an array of engineering and flood-control projects.
‚??It was a very emotional decision. I never envisioned I‚??d be with the county 33 years,‚?Ě said Brozena, 56, who announced the retirement during Tuesday‚??s county Flood Protection Authority meeting.
‚??It was a job where I had people who had faith in me and allowed me to do what I thought should be done,‚?Ě he said.
The West Pittston resident served as county engineer from 1982 through May 2007, when he accepted a position as executive director of the Flood Protection Authority, which handles management of the Wyoming Valley Levee System and other flood-control projects.
Authority members commended Brozena‚??s work and dedication to county government Tuesday.
Brozena did not corroborate an authority board member‚??s assertion at the meeting that his decision to leave stemmed largely from increased citizen scrutiny of the authority and a recent controversy over the eligibility of some authority members to serve due to state incorporation paperwork issue.
‚??I‚??m just looking to move on to new challenges at this point,‚?Ě Brozena said.
Authority member Adrian Merolli, the county‚??s planning/zoning director, said he worked on dozens of projects with Brozena and regularly consults him about proposed development in flood zones.
‚??His philosophy has been similar to mine: Work for the county to do good and try to make the county better,‚?Ě said Merolli, who will mark his 40th anniversary of county employment in February.
‚??Jim‚??s departure is a big loss. It‚??s a real big loss,‚?Ě Merolli said.
While Brozena is most linked to his oversight of the levee, he also handled numerous bridges and road projects, Merolli said.
‚??Back in the early ‚??80s, he and I worked feverishly to push for the North Cross Valley Expressway,‚?Ě Merolli said.
He recalls many instances when Brozena was in the office at 5 a.m. or after hours and on weekends ‚?? not only when the Susquehanna River flooded.
‚??Those are the kinds of things people never see except those who work closely with him,‚?Ě Merolli said.
County Chief Engineer Joe Gibbons recalled how he initially got defensive when Brozena marked up his correspondence and reports on projects with proposed revisions, as if Brozena was one of his college professors.
Gibbons said he didn‚??t think he had much to learn when he was hired as an assistant engineer under Brozena 12 years ago, but Brozena showed him the importance of reaching consensus, inspiring others and taking control of situations.
‚??He‚??s been the most important mentor in my career as an engineer, and I really think today‚??s announcement is one of the most bittersweet days in county history because people like him just don‚??t come around often,‚?Ě Gibbons said.
Gibbons said Brozena had a hand in infrastructure projects throughout the county and also flood-control work in several other counties that are part of a regional hazard mitigation program.
‚??Jim Brozena‚??s name is folklore in the engineering community because the guy‚??s been involved in such major project that impacted our region. The list is just endless,‚?Ě Gibbons said.
Brozena also prepared county employees and officials who responded to record Susquehanna River flooding in September 2011, when emergency measures were required to stabilize the levee and flood gates.
‚??He put that entire team together. He trained us so well to remain calm and step back from the situation even though the first instinct is to panic,‚?Ě Gibbons said.
Brozena declined to discuss possible future employment plans, but said he will continue to volunteer his expertise on levee maintenance and flood response.
‚??They‚??ll know how to find me if there‚??s a flood. Probably as they call me, I‚??ll be walking through the door,‚?Ě he said.
Brozena told authority Chairman Stephen A. Urban in his retirement letter that he is proud of the accomplishments of the prior commissioners, authority members and employees he worked with over the years.
‚??The most difficult part of leaving will be loss of the daily interactions with fellow county employees, federal and state officials and the public,‚?Ě he wrote.
The authority must choose Brozena‚??s replacement.
County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis recently filed a court action asking a judge to determine if three unpaid citizen members of the five-person county authority should be vacated from their seats due to a state incorporation approval problem.
Salavantis stressed the action does not arise from any wrongdoing of these citizens -- William Falls, Douglas Ayers and Kevin O‚??Brien.
Salavantis said her office determined the appointees did not meet existing qualifications to serve because the authority‚??s articles of incorporation were never ‚??properly amended.‚?Ě
The action does not challenge the seats held by Merolli and Urban. The home rule charter allows Urban to continue serving a term on the authority that began when he was previously a county commissioner, she said.