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Jeb Bladine: Traditions provide community strength

Currently, city leaders and others throughout the community find their attention increasingly focused on a complex mixture of homelessness and vagrancy challenges requiring strong consensus for responsive solutions. Their evolving mission, it appears, is to act humanely, but with a determined sense of urgency to protect quality of life.

In tackling that task, we can draw on community traditions of cooperative problem-solving. One of those traditions is continuity of leadership.

Last week at Jay Pearson’s retirement party, I spent a few minutes talking with the only two (ever) full-time McMinnville parks directors. Galen McBee was looking mighty hale and hearty for someone who retired 20 years ago, after 29 years as city parks and recreation director. Pearson spent 40 years in the department, the past 20 as director. Their combined span leading the popular city service bureau was 1968 to 2017.

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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In fact, many key city positions have been occupied by only two people over several decades.

Those duos included fire chiefs Ivan Pearson and Jerry Smith from 1916 to 1989; city managers Joe Dancer and Kent Taylor from 1960 to 2014; city attorneys Clif Ross and Candace Haines from early 1970s to 2016; planning directors Rick Highsmith and Doug Montgomery from 1978 to 2016; librarians Rose Marie Caughran and Anne Van Sickle from early 1960s to 2007; public works directors Bill Blum and Don Schut from 1967 to 2006; finance directors Marjorie Kerber and Carole Benedict from 1972 to 2008.

That list is extending to Mike Bisset, community development director since 2006; Marcia Baragary, finance director since 2008; and Rich Leipfert, fire chief since 2008.

Politically, except for Don Porter’s 4-year term, the city was served by mayors Norm Scott and Ed Gormley from 1967 to 2008. Tom Tankersley, who joined the Water & Light Commission about 1990, has chaired that group for 18 years.

I suppose one reason I’m drawn to that history of McMinnville governance is that the News-Register had two editors from 1941 to 2014, and has had three publishers since 1941.

Eventually, inevitably, longevity yields to new faces. In recent years, the city has gained new and impressive leadership from Jeff Towery (city manager), Matt Scales (police chief), David Koch (city attorney) and Heather Richards (planning director).

Long-term consistency and cooperation have been hallmarks not only of government, but also of civic, institutional and personal activities in local commerce and schools, service clubs and other nonprofits, churches and families. That kind of multi-generational continuity should be an important source of strength as the community faces new challenges.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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