, 2023-01-11 18:25:49,
Peter Fernandez will no longer call the city, no matter how many cracks he sees on the sidewalk during his neighborhood walks in west Salem.
When Salem city officials retire, he said, they mean it. His predecessor who ran the public works department never called former staff members, and neither did the one before him.
“It’s funny, because I catch myself. ‘Oh, you should have done that. Oh, we could have done that. Oh that needs to be taken care of,’” he said.
Less than a week into his retirement, it hasn’t been easy for Fernandez to unplug.
“I did think about when that will happen, when it won’t just be part of my mindset,” he said. “This is really all I ever wanted to do. I always wanted to be an urban planner… I don’t know that that’ll ever leave my mind.”
From doodling city plans on school notebooks to a long tenure with the city, there have been few days in his 60 years of life where he hasn’t thought about ways to improve public spaces.
Fernandez retired effective Jan. 6. After 28 years with the city, and 15 as its public works director, he has left an impact on Salem’s landscape and infrastructure.
His position oversaw 450 employees, and city services including bridges, parks, roads and city water and sewer services. He’s taking his exit as the city prepares to spend an additional $300 million on infrastructure projects over the next decade, most of it earmarked for department projects.
Fernandez said public planning is the only thing he ever wanted to do. He grew up in Florida with Cuban parents, and in elementary school went to Disney World for the first time. He was in awe of the design of the park.
“My mother put it in my head that, ‘Hey, that’s what civil engineers do,’” he said. “And she never let me forget it.”
Fernandez initially studied traffic engineering, and got a graduate degree in planning. Early on in his career he worked for Miami-Dade County, then as a consultant.
He met his wife in south Florida, who is from the Salem area. They moved to Salem in the summer of 1995, and he was hired as the city’s transportation service manager.
“I thought I was in heaven. I was paid to work for (a) municipality, where my unit was traffic engineering and transportation planning. I thought I’d hit the pinnacle of my career right there,” he said.
It turned out he could climb higher. A few years later, he took over street operations, which worked…
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