Looking back isn't something Jerry Soma does often. The retiring county administrator experienced many years of growth and change within Anoka County. But closing out a career that spans five decades is cause for reflection.
“I really believe in moving around and doing things differently,” he said, “and I just had the ability to stay in one place and do it.”
In 1966, Coon Rapids was on the cusp of a housing boom, families were moving in. and Soma accepted a job as a probation officer for Anoka County. His office was stationed in the Coon Rapids Police Department.
“Let me tell ya, I was pretty green when I started,” he recalled with a chuckle.
“What we tried to do was keep molehills from becoming mountains.”
As Anoka County grew, Soma grew with it.
“When I started, the corrections department had - I was the 5th staff person - today we have 231 staff. Our budget when I started was $35,000, today its $25 million. And that's just in corrections.”
Soma became director of the corrections department and later the manager of the entire human services division. He took over the post of county administrator in 2011.
“The best part of what we have is the people who work here. They're hardworking people that are dedicated. They know they're here to help people.”
Soma helped hire and mentor many of those hardworking employees, including Michael Roff who is began as a probation officer and is now director of the employee relations division.
Roff considers Soma a mentor and friend.
“Mission-oriented but also people-centered, so he gets the job done but he also takes care of the people who work for him.”
Soma’s five-decade-long career has made an impact. He helped launch innovative county programs like Partners for Family Success, which brings multiple departments together to help families in crisis with a team approach.
And the Enhanced Treatment Program (ETP) is a long-term treatment and counseling program designed to help women and mothers overcome meth addictions.
“It feels good, you know,” Soma said of the programs they’ve developed during his tenure. “We're a big enough county where we have resources, but we're small enough where we talk to each other.”
“Everything we do improves people lives, so, I'm just one of many that make that happen.”
Soma plans to spend time at his lake home and volunteer. He’s interested in helping to serve seniors.
Soma is replaced by former Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah. She previously worked for Anoka County as a human services supervisor and most recently served as chair of the Anoka County Board.
Jennifer Anderson reporting