Petersburg Pilot -

Leo Luczak retires after 28 years with Petersburg Borough

 


When he first took a job with the City of Petersburg, now Petersburg Borough, Leo Luczak didn’t expect to be with it long enough to retire from it.

“It was supposed to be full time, temporary for three to four months, and it’s been 28 years,’’ he said.

Starting as building inspector, Luczak was quickly fitted for new hats, gaining the titles and duties of Community Development director and supervising a building maintenance crew. The new roles came with new learning curves as well, throwing him headlong into bureaucratic waters he had only dabbled in before.

“I was lucky I did study,’’ he said. “I didn’t know anything about city planning, I learned that on the fly. I was a journeyman carpenter with a few years of college, but I did go through it, study and pass the Certified City Planner test, which is no easy feat. I’m pretty proud of that accomplishment. It’s been very interesting and challenging. I didn’t really expect it as part of the position, but it was more stimulus, and I really enjoyed the challenge.’’

Forging through, Luczak said he leaned on his peers’ knowledge to supplement his own, attending available government and technical conferences as well.

“There were a whole bunch of people in my position, and we all realized we had the same problems,’’ he said. “First thing you do is secure money for your projects then you pass along the information.’’

Eventually he wound up ahead of the curve, with Petersburg gaining a reputation for pioneering grants.

“I got pretty good at meeting with politicians and asking for money,’’ he joked. “I think we’ve risen to what opportunities would arise. They always say Petersburg’s the first to jump on things.’’

Luczak had a discussion to that effect with the Department of Fish and Game just prior to the granting and construction of the borough’s cold storage facility, he added. “I said, ‘nobody else has even applied — would you like to give the money back or would you like the governor to come and cut the ribbon and have an operating facility?’ They laughed at that and we were the first cold storage to open under the fisheries relief money that was available.’’

Not alone in seeking financing to bring into Petersburg, Luczak often worked with Janet Holten over her 12 years as Capital Projects and Grants administrator and previous eight years in other roles.

“Having a successfully completed project, it takes a group effort,’’ she said. “I think the partnership between finance and community development is a good one. Anything I’ve had to do, all I needed was to ask, and Leo was on it. We worked well together.’’

His work drew him into the offices of other municipal departments frequently as well, where he acquired a reputation as a knowledgeable resource on just about anything — ‘go ask Leo’ was a common phrase at many doors, said Karl Hagerman, director of Public Works.

Hagerman said he had worked with Luczak “as a peer for about 13 years.’’ Like many now running municipal divisions, he held lower positions previously as well, interacting with Luczak occasionally in those roles.

“I’ve been around him for quite some time and know that he’s just about seen it all and done it all around here,’’ he said. “He and his crew worked closely with Public Works over the years on many issues. He’s been the face of the borough for so long on so many issues. I wish him well on his retirement, and I’m extremely jealous.’’

Though their offices were stacked on each other, the two were often also found where the lines on a map and lines on the ground intersected through planned projects and unplanned mitigations, he said. “You can’t hardly do anything in the borough without talking to Leo or myself, so we’ve together dealt with a lot of situations over the years.’’

Though he holds no doubts that it’s a good time to retire, Luczak still hesitates slightly at walking away from his work.

“It’s kind of hard, but things change. (Petersburg Economic Development Director) Liz Cabrera is going to be doing the planning functions and (Maintenance Foreman) Joe Bertagnoli will be doing the building inspections and zoning. They’re great folks, things will be just fine,’’ said Luczak.

As for the building maintenance crews Luczak previously oversaw, the employees will be reassigned to various other departments, Hagerman said, not expecting any change in overall borough finances once departments finish shuffling budgets to absorb the new workers.

“There were three different maintenance positions,’’ he explained. “One has been put over to Parks and Rec full time to do maintenance on the parks and the library as well. There was a need anyway, so it made sense to assign somebody there. Another employee was assigned to the Mountain View Manor and the third maintenance position under Leo will be assigned to Public Works. That position will be handling maintenance tasks, but they also will be part of the street crew. We gained another hand for snowplowing and street maintenance in the summer time. I think we’ll be able to get a lot more of the routine stuff that slips through the cracks done. It will be different, to say the least, but I think everybody involved has a really good attitude about it.’’

Along with Luczak’s endorsement, Hagerman added his own vote of confidence to those taking on more senior roles in the borough.

“Joe Bertagnoli has worked for Leo for some years now,’’ Hagerman said. “It’s something he’s familiar with already, filling in for Leo from time to time. I think that will be very smooth.’’

Cabrera’s step from economic development to community development also looks to be smooth, he added. “She is a very intelligent person who has some experience with GIS systems, is no stranger to government and I think her involvement in planning and zoning is going to be a very good thing. She’s also arriving just in time to take the helm as the borough begins the long process of laying out a new comprehensive plan to carry the borough through the next several years of grant writing.’’

“The comprehensive plan process is going to be very interesting,’’ Luczak said. “It’s awfully involved and I thought it better if someone took it right from the beginning, instead of getting halfway through that and stepping back, and I am more than willing to do that.’’

He also has family pestering him to come visit, he said, mentioning an early trip to help one of his daughters pick out a new car.

“Right now I’ve got three daughters in Pennsylvania, Boise (Idaho) and Anchorage,’’ he said. “I want to visit them, I want to visit my mom in Florida and spend some time in Mexico — pretty much just travel and relax right now,’’ Luczak said.

Returning from his wandering inclinations, Luczak said he is pondering how to best make use of the skills he has learned over his career through volunteer work in the community in addition to his current efforts — in proper moderation.

“I’m on the Petersburg Community Foundation and I’m also on the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission and, if need be, I’ll find some more volunteer work throughout town. I’ve offered to help quite a few people throughout the state over the years, so maybe I can help guide someone’s grant through. I don’t really want to write them, but I don’t mind helping them get through the process,’’ Luczak explained.

All told, it was an incredible opportunity for a man in the position he began in, Luczak said, he appreciates the borough for every year. “It was a tremendous opportunity and I want to thank the borough and everyone involved. It’s been an amazing ride.’’

 

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