Jay Stegmaier speaks at a Black History Month event in 2016
Jay Stegmaier began his career with Chesterfield County in 1979 as a budget analyst. Even as he was promoted to increasingly senior positions over the next 37 years, culminating with a 9-year stint as county administrator, Stegmaier still identified closely with the rank-and-file employees working under him.
So after a global economic slowdown hit just a year into his appointment as Chesterfield’s chief executive, sending local revenues plummeting and necessitating severe budget cuts, Stegmaier fought hard to protect the county’s workforce.
What might have been business decisions to somebody else were profoundly personal to Stegmaier. When it became clear the budget could not be balanced without eliminating positions, he tasked the Human Resources department with finding new employment for every departing worker elsewhere in the local government.
Mary Martin Selby, Chesterfield’s Human Resources director, recalled Stegmaier stopping by her office almost every day to check on its progress. While some of the affected county employees opted to retire or got jobs in the private sector, staff eventually identified a placement for everyone who wanted one.
“It devastated him to have to make layoffs, and it worried him,” she said. “He genuinely didn’t want people to leave. I think he felt like he was letting them down. You just don’t find that in every leader.”
Stegmaier, who retired from Chesterfield in July 2016, passed away Jan. 20 at age 68.
“As much as he thought of county employees as family, they felt the same about Jay and are mourning his loss,” said County Administrator Dr. Joe Casey. “While he had to make tough decisions as county administrator, he always acted in the best interest of Chesterfield and the people who call it home.”
Casey’s personal and professional relationship with Stegmaier dates back to 1990, nearly three decades before Casey was hired to succeed him at the helm of an organization with 4,000 employees and a $807 million operating budget.
Having worked together on a number of regional initiatives, Casey acknowledged Stegmaier’s relentless enthusiasm for Chesterfield was “one of the primary reasons I wanted to come here and see firsthand what Jay saw.”
Stegmaier was equally passionate about public service and ethical, efficient and effective governance. He began working for the county at the start of a period of rapid population growth and played a role in many of its most significant accomplishments.
His work as budget director helped Chesterfield secure Triple-A ratings from all three of the major bond rating agencies in 1997, making it Virginia’s first municipal government to hold the highest possible rating on its general obligation bonds.
Promoted that year to deputy county administrator for management services, Stegmaier chaired a committee that helped obtain $180 million in financing for construction of the Greater Richmond Convention Center, which now brings about 300,000 visitors to the region annually.
“Jay was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” said former Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, who represented part of Chesterfield in the General Assembly for 32 years.
Cox and other legislators frequently sought Stegmaier’s counsel on financial matters, most notably a large unfunded liability in the Virginia Retirement System’s trust fund. Stegmaier explained how the program’s finances adversely impacted Chesterfield and all other local governments in Virginia, and strongly encouraged the state to change its funding formula to preserve promised benefits for public employees.
“He was a very good ‘big-picture’ guy who knew the issues inside and out, and I always respected the force of his intellect,” Cox added.
Working with leaders at local, state and federal levels, Stegmaier was known for his “pleasant nature, a witty mind and really good logical arguments.” He had a way of “persuading people that I think is rare,” said Chris Winslow, chairman of the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors.
Stegmaier (left) tours Sabra Dipping Co. plant in Chesterfield
Despite his background as a number-cruncher, Stegmaier also was instinctively a “people person” who possessed an uncanny ability to identify employees’ strengths and put them in positions where they could be most successful.
Hired by Stegmaier as a revenue analyst in the Budget and Management department in 2008, Matt Harris concedes the county administrator saw something in him at the time that he couldn’t see in himself.
“Having that ‘people sense’ is so important,” said Harris, now Chesterfield’s deputy county administrator for finance and administration.
Harris worked closely with Stegmaier from his first day with the county, as part of a budget staff that helped Chesterfield navigate the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.
It was a stressful period for everybody involved – nobody more than the county administrator, who also was working with four new Board of Supervisors members elected in November 2007 – but Harris thinks Stegmaier’s “steady hand” was just what the county needed.
“It was easy to look at the [budget] numbers and headlines and get freaked out, but I never heard him raise his voice even behind closed doors,” he said. “His public persona and private persona were always the same. What you see is what you get. He was just a solid person all the way around.”
Dale District Supervisor Jim Holland, the longest-serving member of the current Board of Supervisors, echoed those thoughts about Stegmaier’s understated, consensus-building leadership style.
“It was a challenging time because there were a lot of competing interests, but he would listen, try to understand our vision and carry it out,” Holland said. “I always appreciated his wisdom and calm temperament in dealing with the board. We weathered the storm together.”
Because of its conservative financial practices and efficiencies identified during the recession, Chesterfield was ideally positioned for a robust recovery. The final chapter of Stegmaier’s long service to the county was spent guiding that process, including an expansion of public safety staffing and increased funding to the local school system to reduce its pupil-teacher ratio.
He also oversaw significant growth in economic development, as Chesterfield ascended to the No. 1 spot in Virginia for manufacturing jobs and became one of the most popular destinations on the east coast for sports tourism.
After nearly four decades, Stegmaier left public service “universally respected,” Cox said.
“We all wanted to perform well for Jay because he was so genuine and caring as a leader,” Martin Selby noted. “He was overall a good person who just happened to be wicked smart. He was the total package.”
“It’s easy for everybody to like you if you never step onto the big stage,” Harris added. “Jay never pulled back from making the difficult decisions and people still feel that way about him. That’s an incredible legacy.”
Stegmaier with Nutsy, mascot of the Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball team