Richard Adams is probably among the few people who don’t mind that the current circumstances made a retirement party impossible. He’s never been comfortable with the limelight and was known as Palm Coast’s utilities director over the years as a presence as commanding as it was unassuming. He’d hoped that “since we were doing everything remotely that I could just fade away into the sunset and not have any pomp and circumstance,” he told a semi-virtual meeting of the Palm Coast City Council when it last met in late April.
On May 1, Adams, by far the longest-serving director in Palm Coast government, retired as the city’s utilities director, ending a 43-year career, all of it in Flagler County and Palm Coast. He’ll be replaced by Richard Flanagan, who’d been groomed for the promotion.
“Since we can’t get together I will flush my toilet in his honor at 6 o’clock tonight, if he wants to watch the water meter,” Council member Bob Cuff said during the meeting, speaking by video from undisclosed location. Cuff’s and Adams’s paths have crossed over the years, both of them having worked for ITT during the city’s pre-historic phase. (ITT had hired Cuff as its in-house counsel in part because he’d worked for a law firm that had represented private utilities, though his work for ITT would end up having little to do with that.)
“We have an award-winning utility system for a reason,” Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland said, recalling her years as a county commissioner, when Adams would share his wealth of knowledge about utilities. (There was of course no mention of the “utility wars” of the last decade, when Palm Coast and the county battled over jurisdictions and the city’s annexation strategies, then often using its utility’s pipes to rope in new customers. A couple of now-resolved flare-ups in and around the county airport aside, that’s been over for many years.)
“I know Richard credits a lot to his team and I agree, I think he has an extraordinary team that works side by side with him,” Holland continued, “but I can’t think of anybody in the entire state of Florida that knows more about utilities than Richard Adams. So your service is not only greatly appreciated, but your legacy will live on for many, many years within the city of Palm Coast and even greater.”
Adams’s career started when he was just out of college in 1977 with an associates degree in engineering from what was then Daytona Beach Community College. He took a job with ITT in pre-incorporation Palm Coast, when ITT had designs to turn Palm Coast into a city of 250,000. That was a time, as Adams recalls, when prospective home buyers drove down A1A and took a boat to cross the Intracoastal to the ITT welcome center. There were perhaps some 4,000 people in town at the time. “They scaled back considerably when they started looking at the environmental impacts and the resources available,” Adams said of ITT’s plans.
As ITT exited the scene and Palm Coast incorporated in 1999, Adams’s career continued with Florida Water, the private utility that had some 20 plants in the state. Florida Water bought ITT’s system in 1999. Then, Palm Coast bought Florida Water’s subsidiary locally for $83 million in 2003. Adams was an assistant manager for the utility in Palm Coast at the time, overseeing 50 employees. He became the utility’s director for the city, and oversaw an expansion to 130 employees, the largest department in the city.
At the time there were two water plants and one wastewater plant servicing the city. Palm Coast now has three water plants and two wastewater plants, the second one completed in 2018. An expansion of the plant is moving forward, with construction planned for late 2021. Palm Coast’s utility is a city department of course, but it runs as its own separate entity–what’s technically called an enterprise fund–responsible for its own budget and revenue. Its water and sewer fees generate some $46 million in revenue. The utility fund doesn’t intersect with the tax-supported general fund except in minor ways (city departments bill the utility and vice versa, when services are cross-used).
“I’d like to think I had something to do with this but we have a tremendous staff here at the utility,” Adams said, “many people with many, many years of experience and it’s the people that work under me that make the day to day things happen and that’s going to continue once I’m out the door. So I have no concerns that things will carry on once I’m gone.” He added: “The timing is exactly what I had planned. Obviously when I was 30 I wasn’t planning to retire at 66, but when I was 60, I set my target at 66. I’ll be almost 67 before I get out of here.”
Adams lives in Palm Coast. He has a daughter in Jacksonville, a daughter and son-in-law and grandchildren in Fort Myers, whom he hopes to see more of, but no plans to stop living in town. He hopes when matters improve beyond the coronavirus emergency to spend time with his wife traveling, seeing the national parks, kayaking, cycling.
At the late-April council meeting City Manager Matt Morton showed Adams by video the gift city staff had prepared for him. “I hate to do this remotely, it doesn’t feel right,” Morton said. “We fully intend to invite Mr. Adams back for a celebration and the recognition he deserves, which we cannot do right now, unfortunately. However, staff all did collaborate, this was a staff-driven effort and staff-funded effort, for this amazing laser-engraved crystal with the 3-D model of the Palm Coast water tower. It’s actually quite remarkable.”
Morton then read the inscription: “To a respected friend and colleague: Your retirement that is so well deserved makes us so happy for you. But we’ll miss you so much as a friend, as a leader, as a co-worker, and to most all of us, the great friend that you are and have been. Thank you for 43 years of dedicated service. We all truly wish you enjoy the next journey in life. Your friends and work family at the City of Palm Coast.”
There is no known video evidence of Cuff’s honorary flush.
I can appreciate on a smaller scale what he did. My father at one point retired and relocated to rural NC to a mountain community where he was responsible for a neighborhood (if you could call where he had lived back in the day, really a neighborhood) well & pump station. I recall driving into the small rural town to get supplies and parts he needed to treat the water and maintain the pump. At a certain point the road back to the well & pump house was unable to be reached by truck, so we had to carry the supplies by hand and walk it in to the forest on the mountain side. Closest experience to a Little House on the Prairie life I’ve ever had to do.
Anyway, here’s to a toilet flush handle salute to a long career.
dennis mcdonald says
As a life long developer/large GC. who has built and operated small water companies and packaged waste water treatment plants for my developments, I have dealt with many City/State Engineers in states OTHER than Florida. I have found the process of development in Florida to be like dealing with a swamp creature. Having said that I have interfaced with Richard Adams and John Moden, retired ITT Storm Water Director then PC. City Engineer on many occasions in the last seventeen years. BOTH of these guys are exceptional Top Shelf Professionals who placed engineering First. They abhorred political pressure and involvement and surely the Politicians.
THANK YOU for a career well done that benefitted the utility users of Palm Coast. Your efforts went a long way to balance all the Politicians egregious agendas.
Fernando Melendez says
Thank you for your service and happy retirement, God Bless always.
CB from PC says
Thank you Richard. Without you and the engineering team overseeing water and waste treatment resources, there would be no town.
Sounds like a good guy. Too bad he didn’t work for Flagler Beach. Since FB’s city motto is “kick the can down the road as long as possible”, and then raise the utility taxes over 100% in five years, he would have been a great asset. I hope he has a great retirement, and enjoys what awaits him.
Jamie Likins says
Richard has always been a man of character and most dependable. My late husband, Roy W. Likins, appreciated his work ethic very much.
Happy Retirement. You deserve it.
Frank Baum says
Congratulations to Richard Adams. Best of everything in your new endeavor.
Scott Sowers says
Happy retirement Richard and congratulations Steve. You all are two of the most upstanding people I have ever met.
John R. Brady says
Congratulations to you Mr. Adams and I wish you a long, happy and healthy retirement.
Celia Pugliese says
Happy retirement Mr. Richard Adams and thank you for all the years of outstanding service. You always responded my occasional concerns as a utility customer with most professional and clarifying answers.
Perry Mitrano says
Congratulations on your retirement! Thank you for your help when we needed your expertise and advice.
Ritz Sebastian says
Hats off Dear Sir. Stay blessed and safe.
Mike Cocchiola says
A life in public service is a life well lived. Congratulations on your service to Palm Coast/Flagler and may you have a long and enjoyable retirement.
Pete Plocharczyk says
Thanks and congratulations to Richard Adams and Steve Flanagan, always a pleasure to deal true professionals.