City hires Will Norris as director of finance

Also: big changes coming in local transit services

Will Norris is the new finance officer and assistant city manager for the City of Hood River.

City Manager Steve Wheeler introduced Norris, a Hood River resident, to City Council Monday night.

Norris, who earned his Business Master’s degree from Willamette University, worked for two years in the city manager’s office of Long Beach, Calif., before coming to the Gorge two years ago. Norris succeeds Summer Sears, who has relocated to central Oregon.


Will Norris

When Sears announced her departure, Council approved Wheeler’s idea of adding the assistant manager title if the right candidate could be hired, given Wheeler’s interest in providing a possible transition for when he leaves the city. As it turned out, the right fit for the job and the dual title was found in Norris.

“He has a real sincere interest in being a city manager someday,” Wheeler said. “My first test was a capable and dedicated finance officer and Will got great reviews from the people I talked to.”

Norris beat out four other interviewed finalists, and the field was “uniformly outstanding,” with Norris receiving highly positive references, Wheeler reported.

Norris will wrap up responsibilities this month at Columbia Gorge Community College, where he has served as budget director for the past two years.

The council learned of significant movement on regional transit in a presentation from Ron Nails and Deanna Bisbee, the new co-directors of the Hood River County Transportation District, which operates the Columbia Area Transit (CAT) bus service.

“We are looking at creating one circle via Highway 35, connecting service around the mountain to Highway 26,” Nails said.


Ron Nails


Deanna Bisbee

According to Nails and Bisbee, look for a new upper valley fixed route service starting as early as September, with stops at Mid Valley Market in Odell, the Mount Hood Store site, and Parkdale Community Center, and potentially at packing houses and other upper valley locations.

Oregon Department of Transportation has allotted funding for two years, starting with a one-year pilot project.

“We are looking at meeting a variety of diverse needs,” Nails told council.

The Transportation District is preparing a master plan, its first in 20 years, to be completed in July 2017. “It is time to kick off public transportation in this area and get it into the year we are in,” Nails said.

User surveys along with a series of stakeholder meetings, starting Aug. 22, will give the district guidance on how and where to provide service. Nails said the district is taking a look foremost at increasing efficiency of existing services, and how transit shuttles can relief downtown parking pressures.

Bisbee said details are being finalized for CAT to expand the Hood River-to-Portland bus service from two days to three sometime this fall. Currently CAT runs to Gateway Transit in east Portland other locations on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Bisbee said CAT has heard plenty of interest in a Friday route linking people to Portland International Airport, but the additional day has yet to be decided.

Nails and Bisbee let council know that many changes could be coming to Hood River County and the Gorge regarding transportation options, in order to reduce congestion, reduce reliance on single vehicles, and to meet the needs of commuters, employment groups and visitors. Grants and other state and federal funding paths are being explored to create better connections with existing transit services on both sides of the river. Plans are afoot to expand to Hood River and Government Camp the highly successful Gorge Express bus service that ODOT started between Troutdale to Multnomah Falls this spring.

In other city news, the Urban Renewal Agency on Monday approved a contract with the non-profit Art of Community (AOC). The council, along with Port of Hood River Commission representatives, convene monthly as URA, whose funds will pay for the artwork to be placed at the bicycle hub/public restroom plaza at Third and State. AOC, which is part of Arts Education of the Gorge, will to arrange the selection, purchase and placement of a public art piece for Street, at a cost not to exceed $20,000. Three years ago, the URA budgeted $25,000 for the project. AOC will charge $2,000 for its services.

The agreement requires that AOC consider either commissioning a new work or purchasing an existing sculpture from the “Big Art” outdoor gallery.

The Third Street plaza was built two years ago as part of the State Street Urban Renewal Project. It already features restrooms, a covered area with seating, and a bicycle “Fixtation” for 24/7 DIY bike repairs. Along with the art work, features at the bicycle hub will include directional signage for bicyclists, and an information kiosk.

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