Two of Loudoun’s most experienced municipal managers stepped into retirement last year, but they’re already back at work.
Sam Finz, who retired as Lovettsville town manager July 6, and Martha Semmes, who retired as Middleburg town administrator Dec. 31, are now both working in the Town of Hamilton—Finz as a project specialist and Semmes as the town’s zoning administrator. But for Semmes, her time out of retirement has also brought her back atop the staffing chart, this time in Round Hill where she is serving as the interim town administrator while Melissa Hynes is out on maternity leave.
Semmes announced her retirement after serving eight years as Middleburg’s town administrator, but it was short-lived. In February, she started work as Hamilton’s zoning administrator and on May 6, she also began work as Round Hill’s interim town administrator.
She said Hamilton Mayor David Simpson asked her late last year if she’d be willing to help out with zoning work, because Zoning Administrator Dan Galindo was swamped with his work at the county’s Planning and Zoning Department.
Semmes works there 8-10 hours a month. “It’s working really well,” Simpson said of the town’s relationship with Semmes.
Semmes’ lead role in Round Hill emerged when Hynes asked her last fall if she could fill in for her this summer while on maternity leave. Semmes said the decision was fairly easy to make, even with a retirement lifestyle on her mind. “I felt it was something I was able to do,” she said.
Now, she’s working about four days a week at about five hours per day and is managing phase one of the town’s streetscape and pedestrian improvements project, tweaking the town’s zoning ordinance, coming up with a park master plan for the town’s two new parks, upgrading the town office’s HVAC system, working to extend water to Sleeter Lake Park and preserving an old stone building at the lakeside park. “I know it’ll definitely keep me busy,” she said of all the work.
With Semmes’ work in Hamilton and Round Hill, she’s now served on the staff of six of Loudoun’s seven incorporated towns during her career, which began in 1977-1980 with the Northern Virginia Planning District Commission.
Her first local government job came in 1983 as a principal planner with the Town of Leesburg. A year later, she was promoted to planning director, where she stayed until 1988.
For about five years in the early ’90s, Semmes opted to stay home with her newborn children, but still did some consulting work, which landed her in Lovettsville.
She went back to full-time government work in 1995 as Middleburg’s town planner and then on to the county as its Main Street coordinator from 2003-2004. Her last planning director job came in Purcellville from 2004 to 2010, where she worked under then-town manager Rob Lohr.
She returned to Middleburg as the town administrator from 2010-2018. Semmes helped bring the Salamander Resort to town, complete the Rt. 50 Traffic Calming project and stabilize the historic Ashbury Church.
Ironically, Semmes now supervises Lohr, who works as Round Hill’s part-time project specialist. Having never worked in two towns at once, she’s working on prioritizing her schedule. “It has its challenges, but I’m not worried about getting it done,” she said.
During her one-month retirement, Semmes started a small consulting firm and maintained a regular workout routine, which she found difficult to do when working in local government.
She was also able to get outdoors more and go hiking—something that should suit her well in Round Hill, which prides itself on being a town dedicated to outdoor recreation and will celebrate its inaugural Appalachian Trail Festival on June 15.
Semmes said she can see herself continuing to work in part time positions, but can’t envision a future void of any work just yet.
Finz in Hamilton
Unlike Semmes’ brief retirement, Finz’s was a bit more taxing. Last March, Finz, 74, was diagnosed with cancer and in May he announced his July 6 retirement after just seven months on the job.
He said chemotherapy was adversely affecting his mental capacity and that he was unable to “speak formidably” in front of a public body.
“I didn’t want to be that way,” he said. “I just felt like I couldn’t take it anymore.”
That’s all turned around, though. Finz is in remission and now working as Hamilton’s project specialist about 10 hours each week.
He said Simpson told him earlier this year that the town could use his help on a few projects, including the $1.5 million project to build sidewalks, crosswalks and handicapped ramps and improve drainage atColonial Highway’s intersections at Laycock Street and Saint Paul Street in phase one.
Finz said VDOT should approve the project in the next 15-30 days. At that point, he’ll put it to bid and hopefully see construction begin this summer and wrap up by the end of the year.
“He’s got great expertise in that area,” Simpson said. “He basically is now moving it forward for me because he can pay full time and attention”
After that, Finz is open to staying in Hamilton to work on other projects, helping out another jurisdiction or both.
For now, he said the next major project in Hamilton would most likely deal with the town’s water and sewer issues, noting that there could be problems with rain water infiltrating the sewer lines. “It’s something we have to look at,” he said.
Before Finz took a part-time job in Hamilton or became Lovettsville’s town manager, he worked as Lovettsville’s interim town manager on three separate occasions and as a consultant since 2005, helping the Town Council hire the town’s first three town managers—Tim Faust in 2005, Keith Markel in 2007 and Laszlo Palko in 2014.
Before Lovettsville, Finz worked as Fairfax County’s senior planner beginning in 1968, acquiring an office window on the 10th floor of the Massey Building that overlooked a then-green countryside. He later was appointed as the director for the Office of Research and Statistics, where he helped to develop the county’s first comprehensive plan, before leaving the county as the deputy county executive for planning and development.
In the 1980s, Finz worked on a committee appointed by the governor that looked at Virginia’s subdivision law and proffer system.
From 1991-2002, he worked in the City of Hollywood, FL, first as the utility director and then as the city manager. It was there that he helped the city save $26 million on a $150 million utility project, which allowed the city to cut utility rates.
Following that, Finz worked as the city manager of College Park, MD, and later as Arlington County’s economic development director. He then moved on to help Loudoun find ways of acquiring land for its various needs via proffers.
It was in 2005 that then-Lovettsville Mayor Elaine Walker asked Finz to help out in Loudoun’s northernmost town.
Finz said he has a new outlook on life following his stint with cancer, which curbed his ability to continue swimming competitively—something he’s done since high school and has recently won gold medals for at the state level.
Finz said he’s open to working as a town manager again, as long as the hours are flexible. For now, though, he’s taking life one day at a time.
“I don’t have a career path anymore,” he said. “I am going to do whatever I want to do so long as I enjoy it—that’s important to me.”