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Managing change: ‘Meet and greet’ is a wide open door

A big decision, and a challenge, awaits the City of Hood River’s government and citizenry.

The five finalists for the job of city manager will come to town later this month.

A “meet and greet” session with the five finalists will be Feb. 26 at Double Mountain, with interviews by three panels the next day.

“Here’s a scenario – What would you do?” will be one thrust of the questions put to the finalists as the panels seek to see how the candidates approach problem-solving. (A total of 50 people applied for the job, and now it is down to five, a mix of men and women from four states including Oregon.)

City Council members, along with citizen and agency invitees, will comprise the three panels. Their recommendations will go far in determining who the city selects as its next city manager.

Citizen input is also important to the process.

That’s where the challenge comes in.

Who remembers last May and June’s raucous council meetings where citizens filled the halls to protest the impending departure of then-city manager Bob Francis? Francis has since moved on to chief operations manager for one of the county’s fastest-growing businesses, Hood River Juice Company. The city’s first interim manager, Don Otterman, and current interim, Ross Schultz, have provided able transition leadership, and few people are looking backward anymore. And the city manager process, it must be stressed, is no longer about any specific individual, but what does come to mind is the civic dynamic that ensued: dozens of citizens, some self-admitted strangers to council meetings, or any other public meeting, standing up to express their disappointment with what they saw happening.

For some, it was an expression of rancor, while others tried to channel their frustration with comments focusing on how the process ought to work. Both approaches are legitimate parts of the public debate, but the positive channel is the one underscored by this month’s public meeting with the city manager candidates, and the rest of the selection process.

Will the meet-and-greet on Feb. 26 draw a large crowd like those we saw last spring? The Double Mountain meet-and-greet is an open, no-obligation meeting (no purchase necessary) at a neutral, community-based location.

Here is hoping the event is well-attended, and that the community sees it as a chance to engage, or re-engage, as the city rounds the corner toward the goal of hiring the next professional to guide city hall.

Budget and public and private development challenges await the manager, working not only with city staff and council but also members of the community.

The best welcome for the five prospects is a large crowd, though of course only one of the guests will be invited back to stay.

The gathering has the potential for two things: interaction with all five candidates as well as with city leaders and other citizens and, who knows, to inspire people to look in on city government more often then when a controversy erupts.

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