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8:18 PM Mon, Oct. 15th

County’s Public Works director calling it a career

When Richard Straub was 18 years old, he was a city road employee in Monroe County, Mo.

His job was to drill holes in a concrete dam by hand for reinforcement bars. Forty-three years later he is retiring as Yavapai County Public Works director, effective today, following 11 years as director of the department.

Straub said everything that has happened in the Public Works Department “was done as teamwork. I also give credit to the Board of Supervisors. We can’t do anything without their approval. I am proud of the cooperation we have developed between the county, the cities and towns, and the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT). It is strictly a team effort.”

Straub said the biggest change he has seen in the Public Works Department is the amount of money available for roadwork.

“Prior to the county’s half-cent sales tax, the money was mostly used for maintenance. The sales tax increased the amount of money available for regional road projects,” the director said. “The additional money has also allowed the Public Works Department to hire more professional staff members to manage the increased programs.”

The county sales tax removed the pressure from the Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF), which now go primarily to road maintenance.

Straub said an additional benefit of the sales tax is that it allows the county to leverage ADOT money.

The director said County Administrator Jim Holst was a major player in the regional roads program.

He said a team consisting of Holst, the supervisors, and city and town officials planned, designed and built a number of major roadways in the county. Straub said the roads included Pioneer Parkway, Highway 89A from Highway 89 to Fain Road, Fain Road, Beaver Head Flat Road from Cornville to Highway 179, and the Mingus Avenue extension from Main Street to 89A.

Straub has spent the past five years mentoring his replacement, and said he is extremely pleased that Deputy Director Phil Bourdon will be stepping into his job.

“My five years of mentoring has produced a first class Public Works director,” Straub said.

Bourdon is the second director Straub has mentored. He noted that he also mentored Norm Davis, who subsequently went to work for Prescott Valley.

Straub’s father set his feet on the path to public service when he asked an 18-year-old Richard if he wanted to spend the rest of his live as a laborer digging ditches. “Why don’t you go to college, study engineering and be in charge of Public Works projects?” he asked.

Straub’s father, Adolph, was the county road commissioner for 35 years. His family has a long history of government service. His sister Rosemary served as a U.S. deputy marshal and retired as the first female lawyer from Monroe County, Mo. His sister Sue is a nurse and retired schoolteacher. Sister Jean retired as clerk of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Straub earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Missouri and joined the Illinois Highway Department. Within three years he had worked his way through the ranks to become one of the youngest resident engineers in charge of major interstate highway construction.

In the early 1970s, Straub became manager of the civil engineering department of a St. Louis engineering firm. While working in St. Louis, he became an assistant professor of civil engineering in the St. Louis Community College system and taught evening classes.

In 1976, Straub became director of Public Works in Jefferson County, Ala., and he supervised a 1,500-person department in the state’s largest county.

In 1981, the American Public Works Association selected him as the Public Works Leader of the Year.

Straub moved to Arizona after a federal court mandated that the State of Alabama broaden its county commissioners to include minorities. He said the new commissioners decided they wanted to be department heads and divided the Public Works Department into three sections.

“I decided to look elsewhere. I applied for a job as an ADOT engineer. I spent a week looking around and liked Arizona. When we decided to move, we liked Prescott and decided to come here,” Straub said.

By 1990 Straub had served three years with the City of Prescott. It was at that juncture that the City Council of Minneapolis, Minn., appointed him director of Public Works, and he worked in that capacity for one year before returning to Prescott to accept the position of Yavapai County Public Works director.

Straub said it is time for a change, though, and that after 43 years he is ready for something different.

He plans to devote more time to his antique business, traveling to Mexico in search of unique items.

He plans to keep his fingers in the public works pie and to work as a consultant with several local land development firms developing commercial and residential sub-divisions.

“Sometimes when people retire they claim credit for a multitude of accomplishments. I only claim credit for being a member of good work teams who made significant progress by effective team efforts. I am very fortunate to have a group of excellent Public Works employees, and I say this quite honestly, that made my job very easy,” Straub said.

“This old public works servant does not intend to fade away, but will remain active in business and community affairs,” he said.

Contact the reporter at prhoden@prescottaz.com