Robert Francis literally blew in with the wind to take his new position as Hood River City Manager.
He arrived on New Year’s Day after driving a harrowing 3,000 miles from the East Coast during a series of winter storms. After fixing a flat tire at the summit of the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon and trying to keep his rental truck on the road during a howling gale in Wyoming, Francis wasn’t daunted by the snow and ice that greeted him in the Gorge.
Plus, he had just left his native state of Pennsylvania where blizzard conditions are commonplace during the colder months of the year.
As he journeyed through Oregon, however, Francis was impressed with the feeling of “wide open spaces.” He was also fascinated that people seemed to approach life in a more relaxed way on the West Coast and still get their business done.
“There is just a different mind-set here and even though everyone is not rushing around, they seem to know the direction they want to head and still be enjoying life,” he said.
Francis, 47, was selected to replace Lynn Guenther, who retired after eight years on the job. A special committee of local officials chose Francis from about 60 applicants for the administrative role that pays an annual salary of $66,000 plus benefits. Gaining the job afforded Francis the ability to fulfill his dream of living on the West Coast.
So, without hesitation, he left a seven-year position as manager of the Borough of Stroudsburg, Penn., which has a population of just under 6,000, about the same size as Hood River. Francis believes that his time in that historic city can help increase local tourism-related opportunities. He said Stroudsburg, located 90 miles from New York City and Philadelphia, is a popular year-around destination for more than one million visitors each year.
Francis’ background also includes skills in grant writing, labor relations, economic development and finance. After 14 years in the military — including combat experience in Desert Storm — the former Army captain said he is not afraid to make a tough decision. But he insists that all of the available options be laid out on the table first.
“I try to put my time and energy into researching both sides of a question and then find a fair solution,” he said. “I like to think that if I’m fair to someone they’ll be fair to me.”
Francis maintains an “open door” policy and invites community members to come by his office at the city administration building and share concerns. He also wants the 55 employees under his supervision to freely submit ideas for improving the efficiency of government. In fact, Francis is planning to meet with the five department heads to set priority projects for 2004 in the immediate future.
“It’s a good roadmap to have goals and try to achieve those goals,” he said. “I like to listen and want my staffers to know that when they approach me with an idea I’ll have an open mind.”
His primary mission is to keep Mayor Paul Cummings and the City Council informed about any challenges he is facing and to enact the policies that the elected officials set.
Francis said the best way to keep abreast of operations is to build up a good working relationship with his employees.
“I have a genuine concern for everyone who works for me and I would like to create an environment where people like to come to work,” he said.