A city of the people, for the people
Last updated 3/28/2023 at Noon
As the City of Sisters ramps up to select our next city manager, I think back to the days before I was an Official Newspaper Columnist™ for The Nugget. I’d lived here about a year when the City announced it’d be hiring a new city manager. Citizens were invited to attend a reception at FivePine, where we could sip wine, snack snacks, and meet candidates.
How civilized, I thought, feeling the glow that comes with moving from a bigger city to a smaller town. I grew up out in the country, where people could easily feel like they were part of the community, but we didn’t exactly have wine receptions. Or city managers, for that matter.
My husband was working, so I brought our kindergartner. The vibe at FivePine was welcoming, in a gracious, maybe even fancy way. Most of the candidates were men, white men, which is typical of the Oregon I know and grew up in.
Most of the citizens who walked in were older, well dressed, and well preserved, perhaps retired, perhaps well off. Perhaps they had more time for civic engagement than the struggling young adults who worked in the gas stations and coffeehouses of Sisters, or the school-age families with jam-packed schedules.
I felt youngish, myself. There sure weren’t any other children in the place. My son and I grabbed some non-alcoholic food and drink. He settled down at our table for some reading and drawing, and I set out to meet the candidates.
It involved waiting in de facto lines for a long time. With my young child across the room, I felt a little jumpy, knowing I might need to head back over to him at any moment. Some individuals talked for 12 to 15 minutes with each candidate, pleased to corner them on pet issues or get carried away with local political chitchat.
Soon I concluded that I couldn’t stay and meet all the candidates. I’d need to get my son home for dinner, pre-bedtime rituals, then bedtime. Oh well. Maybe I could talk with a couple of them.
Eventually I got to the front of my first line and met a man who wanted to become our city manager. We shook hands and exchanged names. He introduced me to his wife, standing deferentially nearby.
Just as I was about to ask my first question, another man barged up to Mr. Candidate. The barger looked older, powerful, well fed, well dressed. He walked up and clapped Mr. Candidate on the shoulder, stuck out his hand for a shake.
“Great to meet you,” the barger boomed. “I’m _____, former county commissioner for ______.” They’re so good at it, these guys. Many have been taught it from a young age. How to take control of a room. How to make their voices heard. How to remain completely oblivious to anything standing between them and their goal.
Mr. Candidate took the briefest of moments to tear his eyes away from the barger’s. I watched him look me over quickly, watched him size me up — correctly — as a younger woman of no importance dragging a small child to a City schmoozing event. Mr. Candidate quickly looked away, then leaned in toward the barger for a good long talk.
His wife watched the whole thing. Shame crossed her face, pink. She gave me a bit of an eye roll and a sigh. Men, she seemed to suggest. What can one do?
I went to another line, and eventually talked with the only female candidate. She had military experience, city management experience, all kinds of experience. She seemed attentive, smart, capable, and strong. She listened to me and I to her.
Alas, it was not she who became the next city manager.
This isn’t about being woke. It’s about being polite, friendly, curious, and expansive enough to do the job properly. A person who doesn’t listen, who kowtows to power over the concerns of everyday citizens, is not suitable to become the next city manager of our town.
Time has passed since then. Mr. Candidate became city manager, then left. My kindergartner is now in middle school. Our country has been through a lot. We’ve learned, often harshly, about power and people, community and equality.
We should expect more this time around. We should demand it.
How did this week’s meeting of potential city managers seem to you? If you noticed that a candidate ignored or belittled any of the people assembled, maybe this would be a good time to speak up.
I hear the town of Sisters, Oregon, has a great little newspaper. You could write a letter to the editor. But first, let the folks at City Hall know what you think. Their phone number appears to be 541-549-6022.