|5/16/2017 12:01:00 PM|
City manager candidates bring deep experience
By Sue StaffordThe citizens of Sisters will get a chance to get acquainted with the candidates for the city manager position at a meet-and-greet on Monday, May 22, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at FivePine Lodge & Conference Center. Citizens will have the opportunity to provide feedback to the selection committee. Light refreshments will be served.
The four candidates come from near and far, with a wide variety of experience.
The Nugget was able to conduct telephone interviews with each of the candidates.
Bruce St. Dennis
Bruce St. Dennis, former town manager of Longboat Key, Florida, for 11 years, is familiar with the issues inherent in a small tourist town. Longboat has a full-time population of about 7,000 but swells to 22,000-25,000 during their high season of January to Easter. There is one road at either end of town that served three times the number of cars during high season.
St. Dennis predicted that as Sisters grows, parking and traffic will be issues to be addressed. He believes in looking to the future and making provisions for possible problems rather than waiting until they develop.
Currently St. Dennis is working in the private sector for an organization that provides municipal-type services for financing construction and long-term maintenance of the infrastructure of residential and commercial communities.
Music is a big part of St. Dennis's life. He plays the banjo, guitar, and mandolin, sings and does a little songwriting. He is a past member of a blues band. When he was in Sisters for the semi-final interviews, he stopped by Preston Thompson's shop to see his guitars.
St. Dennis remarked that Sisters was even better than he had expected. He loves small towns where it is easy to know the people and the issues.
A native of upstate New York, St. Dennis earned a Bachelor of Professional Studies in Architecture from the University of Buffalo, where the winter saw 14 feet of snow. He later earned his masters in management from the University of South Florida.
He mentioned that after 35 years in Florida, he and his family would "be delighted to leave the heat, the palm trees, and the hurricanes" for the dry air of the Central Oregon high desert. He believes that "the climate and people of Sisters would be a good match" for his family.
When asked what he is most proud of in his work history, St. Dennis talked about his relationships with the town boards, the staff, and the public. That is the part of the job he enjoys the most - the people.
St. Dennis described his style of management as one of support and encouragement. He likes to rely on department heads to be experts in their fields. He believes the city manager is there to direct and offer resources to his staff.
"I am genuinely interested in my employees and the Council ... I like a collegial atmosphere. I like to find opportunities for people to help," he said. "I don't get excited when something goes wrong," he added. "I like to fix the problem, with the person still coming out whole."
He sees the job of the Council to be working on policy, designing for the future and the ambiance of the town, and says that is hard work.
Local resident Martha Meeker is a relative newcomer to Sisters. When Meeker retired from the U.S. Air Force as a brigadier general, she and her spouse wanted to find a high desert location in the West to call home. After exploring a number of locations, almost settling in Spokane, they found Sisters, where they purchased 99 acres to call their own.
"This is what we were going for," said Meeker about Sisters. "It's the perfect place."
After a distinguished career in the military, Meeker said she is returning to her rural roots. She grew up driving a tractor in Illinois farm country on 3,000 acres of soybeans and corn. Her small town had a population of 100 and the entire county had one high school.
Meeker graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a double degree in math and computational science with plans to be a high school math teacher. A summer internship at NASA Langley changed the course of her life. When she walked on the base and saw the wind tunnel and the parts being manufactured for the space station, this Star Trek fan was captivated. Realizing it would take her six more years to earn her Ph.D. to work in the aerospace field, she opted instead to join the Air Force.
Meeker's last assignment, before retiring, was serving as the vice commander of the USAF Expeditionary Center where, for a year, she was the second in charge of a 14,000-person organization supporting air forces around the world. Another yearlong position was as the senior special assistant to the commander of NATO and the European Command.
Her first job after retiring from the military was almost two years as city manager in McMinnville, a position from which she resigned in October 2016. She described the Sisters city manager position as her "dream job."
Meeker said, "Because Sisters is an incredibly attractive place, growth is unavoidable. You can't stop it."
She compared growth and change of Sisters to aging. It's going to happen and the best thing to do is prepare for it. She sees lots of good things going on in Sisters, like the new roundabout.
Meeker sees the position of city manager to be one of a generalist rather than a specialist. She would like to "allow everyone's strengths to come forward," and work collaboratively, enabling everyone to do their job. She describes herself as energetic, admitting that sometimes she can be a little impatient.
She would like the residents of Sisters to know that she is "passionate about becoming part of this community."
Current director of public works and community development for Folsom, California, David Miller would like to take all of his previous work experience and invest it in a small town where he can make a definite difference. He would like to leave his mark and have people say "it was really great to have him here."
"Sisters fits the bill," Miller said. He and his family have enjoyed past stays in Sisters.
"I love the community. I love rural Oregon, particularly east of the mountains," he explained.
Miller thinks to be a successful city manager it is necessary to listen to people and validate where they are coming from in order to build community. He enjoys talking with people, engaging them in looking for solutions.
Affordable housing, the private-public airport, and competition between the tourist industry and the need for family-wage jobs are three current issues in Sisters that Miller thinks need to be addressed.
"In every small town, there is the challenge to have enough financial resources to meet your needs," Miller said. "It's important to have an efficient staff who can multitask."
Miller said he likes to encourage his staff and he wants results.
Several things stand out to Miller as to what he is most proud of. On the one hand, when he was involved in private-sector development, he was proud of "the high quality, beautifully designed projects that built a great community."
In the public sector, he is proud of the team he built when, due to the recession, he had to reduce his staff by half.
"I culled out the dead wood, paid better money, and built a team that was mutually supportive with total respect. I turned the talent around. Those who couldn't prosper, left," he said.
Miller served as the community development director for two years in La Grande, which had a population of 14,000. He would like to return to the Pacific Northwest, as he has family in Washington.
"Oregon is my favorite place in the U.S.," he said.
Miller is a musician who plays guitar and a little keyboard in a band. He graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor's degree in architecture. He grew up in Spokane.
Brant Kucera has spent the last 18 years in management of small towns. That's why the job opportunity here in Sisters appealed to him. He sees Sisters as a small town that is growing, and he likes the excitement that comes with that growth.
Kucera has been the city manager of Cannon Beach for the past two-plus years. He explained that Cannon Beach is slow-growing and doesn't see itself ever being much different. The residents have a very distinct picture of what the town is and will stay.
He sees Sisters embracing what could be with the opportunity for growth, while maintaining its distinctive community character. Kucera has spent time in Sisters and finds it a charming town.
"Sisters has a small-town character and charm, and yet it is next to larger metropolitan areas of Bend and Redmond," he said.
Kucera manages by inclusion. He believes the workplace needs to be a place that is comfortable, since so much time is spent at work. When he arrived in Cannon Beach he found a city staff that had a lack of trust for management. Kucera concentrated very hard on building trust with the employees.
"Employees are the key factor to success," Kucera said. "I need to be sure we are all on the same page. It is important to make sure employees are happy."
Kucera described himself as a consensus-builder who is very team-oriented. He doesn't believe in micromanaging his staff.
"I am dependent on them to make good decisions," he said.
His off-work hours are spent enjoying the outdoors in any weather, where he said he finds peace. Kucera describes himself as "an avid outdoors person and runner." He is also an avid reader and likes to write short fiction.
A native of Pennsylvania, Kucera came west for his undergraduate program at University of Idaho where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in geography. He went on to earn a masters in public administration from Northern Michigan University.
Prior to assuming the city manager duties in Cannon Beach, Kucera was borough manager for the Borough of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, for six years where he supervised 32 full-time employees. Before that he was city manager of Gladstone, MI, the city treasurer in Munising, MI, and the assistant city supervisor for the City of Moscow, Idaho.
When asked what he is most proud of in relation to his career, Kucera said, "Every city that I've managed, I've left a better place than when I arrived, and I think the citizens would agree with that."
Kucera "loves municipal government" and believes there is "a lot we can do to improve citizens' lives."
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