Major projects await new city manager

Rachael Fuller inherits a significant list as Steve Wheeler departs

CITY MANAGER Steve Wheeler accepts a congratulatory plaque for his dedication to the city and the community from Mayor Paul Blackburn Monday, Behind them are council members Megan Saunders, Becky Brun, Mark Zanmiller and Kate McBride (not pictured, Peter Cornelison). Wheeler and Blackburn thanked each other for a close working relationship. "It has been a distinct pleasure working with you," Blackburn said. Wheeler added his thanks to the council, the administrative team, and to former mayor Arthur Babitz.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
CITY MANAGER Steve Wheeler accepts a congratulatory plaque for his dedication to the city and the community from Mayor Paul Blackburn Monday, Behind them are council members Megan Saunders, Becky Brun, Mark Zanmiller and Kate McBride (not pictured, Peter Cornelison). Wheeler and Blackburn thanked each other for a close working relationship. "It has been a distinct pleasure working with you," Blackburn said. Wheeler added his thanks to the council, the administrative team, and to former mayor Arthur Babitz.



Business in Monday’s varied city council meeting included a bittersweet sendoff for City Manager Steve Wheeler and news of a project setback that his successor, Rachael Fuller, will need to deal with.

Council learned that cost estimates are higher than expected in the Rand-Cascade intersection re-do, planned for 2020 and one of the city’s highest infrastructure priorities for the past 10 years. Mayor Paul Blackburn said the cost increases are likely to cause a delay in completion of the project, but more will be known after conversations with Oregon Department of Transportation about increasing their share of the funding for the work. The city plans to straighten the intersection, which currently jogs slightly where it meets the shared access to Wasco Avenue and the Walmart southeast entrance. Traffic signals are also part of the intersection revision plan.

Wheeler, in his last council meeting, received a commemorative plaque from Blackburn. (Photo, page A11.) Wheeler retires after five years with the city. On Monday, council formally ratified the contract for Fuller.

“I have had a wonderful experience here, and couldn’t think of a better place to wind up a career after more than 40 years,” said Wheeler, who will relocate to be near family in California. He praised his fellow administrators and said of city staff, “we have a great team here.”

Fuller previously worked for Gresham and the city of Jackson, Wyo. She starts work Monday, and Wheeler will work through Tuesday. With Wheeler’s departure, Fuller takes the helm as chief executive officer with some big decisions pending for the city.

For the sixth straight meeting, members of the 40-member Hood River Building Coalition were present at the meeting as they continue their advocacy for a major change in how the city renders the building inspection and permitting services. The group, made up of private contractors and supporters, has lobbied for a change to a contract with the Hood River County Community Development Department. Wheeler said Fuller will inherit a process that has examined a variety of options including shifting to a county contract, changes to the current system that make it more responsive to the public, or a hybrid.

He said city officials have had several meetings with the coalition, county officials, the current contractor, and others. A proposal for city council to consider will likely be on the agenda at its first or second meeting in September, after Fuller gets settled.

In other business, the city also approved a resolution upholding the Affordable Housing Constitutional Amendment, Measure 102, which will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. Joel Madsen, director the Mid-Columbia Housing Authority, spoke for Measure 102 Monday.

The measure would allow communities to use bond dollars in partnership with non-profit housing providers and to use federal resources in combination with the bonds to build affordable rental homes, not currently allowed by law. Now, any bond supported project must legally be owned by the governing body.

“That makes sense when you’re talking about roads, bridges and courthouses, but not as much sense when you’re talking about affordable housing,” said Madsen, whose non-profit agency builds and manages low-cost housing facilities and programs throughout the Gorge.

“We have a strong network of non-profit, affordable housing providers across Oregon who can build, own and operate any affordable housing built with bond dollars for the long term,” Madsen said. “We want any locally approved bond dollars to go as far as possible, so the Legislature referred Measure 102 to the voters this fall, which will remove an outdated restriction placed on local bonds, and make them more effective.”



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