City Council examines building services

City manager candidates are in town this week, with the seven finalists meeting the community on July 10 at City Hall, 6:15 p.m.

On July 11, City Council will interview three finalists; and a decision is expected soon. See for updates.

City manager Steve Wheeler will retire in August after a short transition period. He was hired five years ago.

Tuesday morning and afternoon, City Council and staff held one-hour interviews with each candidate.

Candidates include assistant city manager Will Norris and John McSherry of North Bonneville, as well as Jennifer Olson, Petra Schuetz, Rachael Fuller, Susan Parker and Blair Larsen.

“Hiring a city manager is the most important thing we do,” Mayor Paul Blackburn said Monday during discussions in the City Council meeting.

But a diverse array of other business Monday kept the council busy, including:

Allowing City Manager Steve Wheeler to spend up to $5,000 on a contract with Portland consulting firm Jensen Strategies to assist with the next steps in determining the future of the city Building Services department: The main options are to retain current contractor, Clair Co., of Corvallis, with changes in the contract; issue the contract elsewhere, including with Hood River County; and to bring the department in-house. The process with Jensen will take at least two months, meaning “it’s not likely to be complete before I am done,” Wheeler said.

For the fourth meeting in a row, members of the Hood River Builders Coalition spoke to council, calling on the city to dismiss Clair Co. and enter a contract with the Hood River County Community Development Office to provide inspections and building permit review services.

Approving a three-hour parking restriction to go into effect on West Portway, from Second to Eighth streets, starting sometime in August – as soon as the signs can be created and installed, according to Public Works Director Mark Lago. Currently, there is no time limit in that section of Portway; parking will remain free but three-hour limit will be enforced.

Wheeler said the city has received many complaints about the new system of paid parking on the waterfront, now a month old; though it was a Port of Hood River Commission decision and only affects streets owned by the Port.

Free parking remains on city-owned streets: West Portway and on Second and Eighth streets.

Lago said the new sign poles could be kept in place and fitted with new signs should the city decide to charge for parking in its waterfront zones — though no timeline is in place to do so.

(Note that the Port’s paid parking areas are East Portway from Second to First; First Street from Portway to Riverside; West Portway from Eighth to the entrance of The Hook; and a new lot known as Jensen Lot, directly east of Waterfront Park.)

Hearing that the new quarterly city electronic newsletter will go on line this month, from a report by Paige Rouse of PageWorks, which contracts with the city to provide communications services. Rouse expects to see a jump from the 900 or so residents currently receiving email updates from the city, once the expanded “E-News” starts up. It will complement existing social media messaging and the city’s website. Articles in July will include wastewater treatment plan odor control project, downtown parking and utility rates.

Regular features of the newsletter will include “Around Town,” a mayor’s column and employee of the month.

Building Services discussion

Steve Wheeler said Jensen Strategies will evaluate the forthcoming proposal for Clair to be in Hood River five days a week and help in discussions — starting next week — with the county on possible assumption of building review duties and analyze revenue and policy issues.

Jensen, primarily via consultant Alice Cannon, will also provide research and assistance on putting together a proposed budget for an in-house Building Division. (Clair was issued the contract in 2010 after a recession-related downturn in building activity in the city.)

Developer Pasquale Barone presented a petition in favor of contracting with the county, bearing nearly 200 signatures including property and business owners, “people who have an interest in this — though I think the building department is of interest to everyone,” Barone said. “We’re the ones who build in town and we are building for you,” he told the council.

“Please listen to our concerns,” said retired contractor Jim Reed, who recently was cleared to build on what he called a flat, utility-served lot; a process that took five months to get through the review under Clair.

“We are a small town, it’s easy to talk to each other. Why should it take so long?” Reed said. He called the county contract “the least-cost option; and with it, the city can maintain control.”

Barone said of the city’s decision to hire Jensen Strategies, “I think that’s a move in the right direction, but I think it’s also something everyone I’ve had sign the petition, that you don’t have to think very hard that to have a building department in town with people who are accessible and reliable is something hard to beat.” (Currently, a staff member is present in Hood River five days a week, but Building Official Dave Flemmings, who has the most authority, is in town one day a week.)

“The city’s concerns are real ones,” Barone said, “but I think they are not understanding that it is important having economies of scale with the county and the fact that the county is duty-bound by Oregon law to keep separate the funds generated for serving the building department, in up times and low times, that the building department (funds do not) go to the general fund.”

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