The City of Lebanon will begin the process of finding a full-time city manager during a work session which will be scheduled later this month.
Mayor Paul Aziz said there wasn’t enough time to properly prepare for a discussion of the issue at this week’s regular council session, which will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11, at the Santiam Travel Station, 750 Third Street.
Former City Manager Gary Marks resigned following an executive session on Thursday, Aug. 29. Marks had been placed on paid administrative by the City of Lebanon on Aug. 14. No explanation has yet been given for Marks’ suspension or resignation.
Ron Whitlatch, 48, the city’s engineering services director, has been named as interim city manager.
“Ron’s been a stand-up guy for many, many years with our city with his organization, his leadership skills, and he’s really well respected by the staff, in the whole building. Everybody gets along with Ron,” Aziz said. “He’s a good worker. He gets things done.”
Aziz said Whitlatch has overseen major projects for the city in the past such as the construction of the new water treatment plant. The mayor said it was also helpful that Whitlatch’s office is at city hall and he is already engaged with other staff on a daily basis.
“I think that was probably the best choice we would make,” Aziz said.
Whitlatch said things have gone smoothly in his first couple of weeks filling dual roles.
“It’s not bad. It’s obviously busy and we’ll have to re-prioritize a couple of things, minor things. But I was involved with most of the major issues that the city had going anyway, such as the Westside Interceptor,” Whitlatch said, referring to the city’s expansion of its sewer collection system. “Plus, we’ve got phenomenal directors that run their departments and do a great job. It makes it pretty easy.”
Whitlatch has worked for the City of Lebanon for nearly 25 years. He started as an engineering technician in December 1994. He later served as the senior engineer for capital projects and has been the head of the Engineering Services Department since 2013.
Aziz said he has asked Whitlatch to provide the council with a summary of the process used to fill the previous vacancy at city manager. The City of Lebanon used the Prothman search firm to recruit and review candidates for that search, Aziz said, and he expects a similar process will be used again.
“They’re very good and their specialty is municipalities,” Aziz said of Prothman, which was also used by the Lebanon Fire District to recruit candidates in its search for a new fire chief. “I’m very pleased with Prothman, if that is what the council decides to do, absolutely.”
Looking forward, Aziz noted that the holiday season is not an ideal time to conduct a candidate search and he thinks it could be early 2020 before the recruitment process begins in earnest. That would require Whitlatch to serve in a dual role for several months before a replacement is found.
Whitlatch said he understands the process will take time. He emphasized that his interest has always been in public works and he will not be a candidate for the job going forward. His goal is to ensure the city continues to provide the best service possible during the transition.
“We’ll make it through it, we won’t miss a beat. We’ll have to re-prioritize some of our work objectives in the engineering department, but we’ll keep all the important things moving forward. All the other things that we can push back a little bit, we’ll push back,” Whitlatch said. “Any of the other departments, they’re gonna just run like they normally would. So in short, the public shouldn’t see any difference in the quality of service that we’re giving.”
Aziz said a date has not been officially set for the work session. The time and place will be announced once it has been established.