The seven are now three.
A decision is expected sometime next week on which of three finalists, all Oregonians, will be offered the job of Hood River City Manager.
The council will choose between Will Norris, the current assistant city manager and finance director; Rachael Fuller of Gresham; and W. Blair Larsen of Stanfield, according to Mayor Paul Blackburn. One of the three will replace Steve Wheeler, who will retire next month after a short transition period with his successor.
“We had excellent choices, and we are very happy about all three of the finalists,” Blackburn said. “We were super happy with the field we had and we (council) had in-depth, all-day discussions and it was hard to trim out four people.” The seven candidates were interviewed Tuesday, and the three finalists underwent a second round of interviews on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the seven candidates invited to Hood River interviewed for an hour each, meeting with three groups: Council members, staff members and a citizen panel. The citizens were Anna Cavaleri, board member, Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District; Mike Oates, chairman-elect, Hood River County Board of Commissioners; Joel Madsen, Mid-Columbia Housing Authority; and Michael Barthmus, a downtown business owner.
“We were very grateful for that stakeholder input,” Blackburn said.
Following the interviews, the city hosted a reception at City Hall, where the seven candidates spoke briefly to 30 or so community members who then had the chance to talk individually or in small groups with the candidates.
The process now shifts to a second check of candidate references, carried out by consultant Phil McKinney of Portland, who will report back to council after further research on Fuller, Larsen and Norris.
“Phil took a look at references before we invited the candidates to Hood River. This will go more in-depth,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn said of Fuller, Larsen and Norris that, “We were really impressed with all three in terms of relevant experience, professional demeanor and their ability to address the needs of Hood River.”
He said the process gave him further insights into how city managers work, noting that his own frame of reference was primarily limited to his work with the city’s own chief executive officer.
“It makes my understanding of the mayor and city manager jobs that much better, hearing from others the different ways things are done,” he said.
“It also underscored the fact that Hood River is quite a place, and it perhaps changed our perception of the demands of the job in Hood River,” Blackburn said.
Rachael Fuller of Gresham, a Seattle native, worked for 13 years for the city of Jackson, Wyo., and moved back to the Northwest in 2011, now serving as assistant city manager for the City of Gresham.
“Hood River is a unique and special place, as you all know, you have a breathtaking setting,” Fuller said. “Some of the things I heard to describe the community were collaborative, dedicated, generous, welcoming and engaged. We are so fortunate in local government to provide those fundamental and basic services we all rely on and to support your efforts to work to build a better community. It’s a really awesome responsibility.
“What you would get from me is a commitment to public service and representative democracy, a broad background in the day-to-day operations of a city government and a committed community partner,” Fuller said.
Blair Larsen, city manager of Stanfield in eastern Oregon, grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. Larsen said, “I didn’t really have a hometown, just a faceless place where everyone commutes to D.C., and that stuck with me as I grew up and tried to figure out where is my place and what do I want to do.
“As I earned my degree, I learned of this city manager profession, this idea you can be hired to essentially serve the public in your community, and it resonated with me. This idea of this career was kind of calling to me, this is the place I wanted to have in society.” He earned his Masters in Public Administration with an emphasis on local government and worked first for Broward County in Florida.
“I bring the same passion and dedication to community everywhere I work. I’m not interested in coming in and being ‘the man,’ I’m interested in coming in and helping people accomplish their goals,” Larsen said.
Will Norris studied planning and business administration at the University of Oregon and earned his Master of Business Administration degree with focus on public management from Willamette University. He worked for Lane County, then the City of Albany, and was chief financial officer for Columbia Gorge Community College for several years before joining the city three years ago. He first came to the Gorge as an AmeriCorps volunteer, building trails in Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
“It’s amazing to apply for a job in an amazing place where I’ve always wanted to be,” he said.
Norris said his professional standard is “are we operating in a way that’s consistent with being a national leader and, if not, how can we improve and become closer to that every day.”