There will be at least one new member on the Lebanon City Council after the November general election.
Council Robert Furlow, 70, has decided not to run for another term representing Ward 1. He has filled that post since being appointed in July 2014 to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Barry Scott.
Furlow served out the remainder of Scott’s term and then won an election for that seat in November 2016. Furlow said in an interview that he will not seek re-election.
“My health has not been too good. I’ve been in the hospital several times and I’m just not able to continue some of the outside activities I’ve previously been able to do,” Furlow said. “I think it’s time for someone else who is able to be more active to participate with the council. I’ll miss that affiliation, it’s been a wonderful experience.”
Council President Jason Bolen said Furlow will be missed.
“Robert has been a tremendous asset to the council during his tenure and has provided us with the benefits of his many years of experience in government and health care. I’m very grateful for his leadership and contributions to Lebanon,” Bolen said.
Furlow said he was encouraged to apply for the open seat by his wife, Cheryle.
“It was kind of a set-up by my mother-in-law and my wife. I had just retired for the third time and I guess I was getting underfoot. They were looking for something for me to do, I think,” Furlow said.
The idea didn’t lack merit. Furlow has extensive experience working with local governments, specifically in the area of health care.
A native of Klamath Falls, he studied public health at Oregon State University. After graduating, he joined the United States Army in 1972. The Vietnam War was still ongoing and he thought there was a good chance he would be drafted if he did not volunteer.
He was accepted into the Medical Service Corps and his first assignment was at a military hospital in Maryland where he was stationed at Fort Meade. He was later stationed in Japan.
In all, he spent 24 years in the military, rising to the rank of colonel.
“It was a great experience,” Furlow said.
After his retirement from the service, he went into health care administration. Furlow led a four-county health district in Utah for 11 years. After moving back to Oregon, he served as the superintendent of the Blue Mountain Recovery Center (a psychiatric hospital) in Pendleton and as the health director in Douglas County.
He has also served as the chief financial officer of the Oregon State Hospital System.
Furlow’s background provides him an informed perspective on the novel coronavirus and the steps governments have taken to slow its spread.
“As a former public health director it has been quite an interesting thing to observe. I’ve never seen anything like it in my career,” Furlow said. “We don’t have the ability to get to the herd immunity rate any time in the foreseeable future. Distancing and masking is the only thing that’s going to allow opening up the community and keeping the numbers within reason.”
Despite his extensive experience, he did not expect to be selected from the five candidates for the open seat on the council. He had a relatively brief history in Lebanon, moving to the community in 2006.
“I was very surprised because all of the other candidates had long histories of service in Lebanon, knew people that I did not know,” Furlow said. “I felt I had some experience that could be helpful with my government contracting experience … I knew how to work with budgets and systems and people.”
He is proud of the work the council has done during his six and a half years as a member. He appreciated the professionalism and courtesy demonstrated by his fellow councilors and the city’s staff.
“I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie on the council and the staff has of the city have been excellent to work with. It’s an outstanding organization. The talent on the council has been amazing. There’s a wide diversity of backgrounds and people, and we have, I think, a very well-connected group and have open and frank discussions amongst each other,” Furlow said.
In particular, Furlow praised Ron Whitlatch and the city’s engineering department for the work they performed in constructing a new water treatment plant. He said the city has long needed to replace its old facility, but the price of building a new facility was just too high.
“We went a different route, did a lot of the work and managed the contracts ourselves. Ron and his staff did a lot of the work and saved the city a lot of money,” Furlow said.
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