We taxpayers sometimes tend to downplay the benefits that good government managers can bring to a community. Sometimes, we have a sense that what amounts to a government run by volunteers can get the job done just as effectively and certainly more efficiently than if we handed it over to professional bureaucrats. In fact, the word "bureaucrat" is frequently used as a pejorative.
Sometimes, of course, the pejorative is well-deserved. And volunteers certainly have important roles to play in government, serving on commissions and councils and committee, regardless of a community's size.
But sometimes, a community grows to the point where it requires a more professional hand to guide the show.
Which brings us to Millersburg, the fast-growing town just north of Albany. If you've been following recent developments there, you know its government is in the midst of considerable controversy: The city manager, city recorder and deputy clerk all have recently resigned. Six employees of the city have signed a letter of no confidence in Mayor Jim Lepin. In an October meeting, the council appointed Barbara Castillo as a volunteer interim city manager. But she is facing a complaint that's been filed against her with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission and has withdrawn from that post.
At a meeting this week, the council decided to hire Kevin Kreitman, a former chief with the Albany Fire Department, as its interim city manager. Kreitman will be paid $6,500 a month starting this month. Although there was some concern from citizens about how the hiring was made (more later about the importance of transparency), this appears to be a good move.
Kreitman's first job will be to bring a measure of stability and calm to Millersburg government. His second job will be to pave the way for the Millersburg council to hire a permanent, professional city manager.
To that end, the council made another important decision this week: It voted to have the Council of Governments help Millersburg find a permanent city manager, and approved a pay scale of $80,000 to $100,000 for that position.
It's a big step for the community, but this is the time to do it: Millersburg is among the fastest-growing towns in the state, with 26 percent growth in population from the 2010 census to 2016, when the estimated population was 1,674. And that growth pace isn't expected to slow down any time soon; in fact, the town could be booming in just a few years. Managing that growth is going to take a steady hand from a city manager and enlightened leadership from the town's elected officials.
The process of picking that next city manager needs to be thoughtful and as transparent as possible: Considering the rumors swirling in Millersburg, it's incumbent on the council to put a premium on public input throughout the entire process. (Councilors should take heed of citizens' worries that too much city business is handled behind closed doors; that includes complaints from some citizens that the hiring of Kreitman appeared to be a done deal before this week's meeting. A good way to ease some of those worries would be to commit to transparency in the process of finding a new city manager.)
Millersburg's elected officials and Kreitman also appear to have some work ahead of them in providing answers to residents who are legitimately concerned with recent events in City Hall. It may be an impossible task to quell all the rumors that are floating around town, but the best gift Kreitman and the council could give their next city manager would be a relatively clean slate. There will be plenty of other issues facing Millersburg and its city government over the next few years; the more the next city manager can focus on those, the better off the entire community will be. (mm)