Matthews Public Works Director Ralph Messera will retire June 30.
While many residents may not have met him, they probably have driven on a road, attended an event, or checked out a book in a facility Messera had a hand in creating.
He served as Matthews town manager from 1997-2002 before taking the helm of Public Works.
Former Matthews Mayor Lee Myers says Messera was indispensable during his time in office.
“I worked with Ralph from 1997 until I left office in December 2009: 12 good years,” Myers said. “Ralph was key in our aggressive building campaign that saw the construction of our library/Town Hall, Public Works facility, Police Department and the renovation/expansion of the community center. Ralph’s knowledge and professionalism guided us through these many years.
“He and his team work behind the scenes to keep Matthews a safe and attractive community. Matthews will miss Ralph.”
Messera has a knack for remembering trivia, and Town Manager Hazen Blodgett said his encyclopedic knowledge has been an asset to the town and will be greatly missed.
“Ralph is the consummate professional, hardworking and detailed-oriented,” Blodgett said. “In his many years in local government he has accumulated a wealth of knowledge. For local governments in North Carolina, the UNC School of Government is who we reach out to for expert advice.
“In my case, prior to calling the SOG, I call Ralph.”
In addition to his regular duties as Public Works director – overseeing streets and roads, managing the stormwater system, building maintenance, fleet maintenance (more than 130 vehicles and pieces of equipment), town landscaping and sanitation contracts – Messera has spent countless hours lobbying for state and federal transportation funds.
“Ralph Messera is an endless supply of transportation knowledge that cannot be replaced,” said Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor. “His vast understanding and interest in the regional transportation system has helped Matthews stay engaged throughout the years as it relates to past, current and future transportation needs for our community.”
“Ralph has been a strong and highly effective voice for roads and transit in Matthews,” said Blodgett.
“He understands how the pots of money (federal, state and local) work in N.C. DOT. Ralph’s fingerprints are all over Matthews,” Blodgett said.
Many of the road projects the town of Matthews dreamed of 10 or more years ago are now underway, thanks to the patience and perseverance of Messera. Current projects include the widening of South Trade Street, construction of Buckley Way (connecting John Street to Charles Street to allow easier access to the Sportsplex), and the Campus Ridge relocation project to make it easier to access the Levine Campus of Central Piedmont Community College.
“I like seeing projects completed. I’m not sure why I’m retiring with all these road projects underway,” Messera said.
But after 37 years in public service – Oxford; Clarksville, Va.; Bessemer City; and Matthews – plus two additional years as an AmeriCorps volunteer – Messera says he’s looking forward to riding more trains (he’s a volunteer Train Host for Amtrack), staying active in the Matthews Kiwanis Club, traveling more with his wife, Brenda, and snow.
“I’m looking forward to enjoying snow again. Brenda loves snow, and I hate snow because I have to deal with it. When I retire, I’m looking forward to watching it snow again knowing I don’t have to worry about getting rid of it,” Messera said.
What advice does he have for a town he’s watched grow from 13,000 to 30,000 residents over the past 18 years?
“Roads and transportation will continue to be the big issues. The town will need to continue to work closely with N.C. DOT. And we can’t expand anymore, so we are going to have to be really careful on what we encourage for development on the remaining land and encourage careful infill,” Messera said.
He and Brenda plan to continue living in downtown Matthews, and will watch as the town he has cared for during the past decade-and-a-half continues to grow and many of the transportation projects he started come to fruition.
Taylor says he’s glad Messera is staying close and plans to keep his phone number nearby.
“I will miss his vast knowledge, insight and perspective as he and Brenda move on to the next phase of life, but know I can always count on Ralph if I need to pick his brain. Matthews is a better place today because of the efforts and contributions of Ralph, and I thank him for that,” said Taylor.
Messera’s expertise is recognized statewide as well. He recently was awarded the Robert S. Hopson Leadership Service Award, presented annually by the American Public Works Association – North Carolina Chapter, to recognize a North Carolina public works official working above the supervisory level for outstanding service and meritorious achievement in local government service.
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Melinda? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.