Springfield's second chair appears good fit for McMinnville
If you ignore the recent short-lived tenure of retired Air Force Gen. Martha Meeker, embracing a new city manager is something we undertake only every quarter century or so.
We had the Joe Dancer era, then we had the Kent Taylor era. Or more accurately, perhaps, we then had the Kent Taylor/Ed Gormley era, as the manager’s 28 years largely overlapped the mayor’s 24, and the two functioned in remarkable harmony.
We felt Meeker brought much more to our community than her council critics gave her credit for, particularly chief critic Kevin Jeffries, whose caustic assessment seemed to go well beyond the individual councilor critiques it aimed to summarize. Nonetheless, that relationship ended up running irreparably aground in relatively short order.
So the council dutifully cast about for a new suitor, and the process produced one that, by all accounts, seems destined to fill the void in Taylor-like fashion in Jeff Towery, coming off a tour as assistant city manager in Springfield. To say he towered over his competition would be more than fair in our assessment, and we had a good inside look.
Towery is 55, so we don’t foresee wringing a quarter century of service out of him. Something more akin to a decade seems a reasonable target. But he made it clear he’s hoping to make McMinnville the final stop in his career.
He has experience serving as a city manager or assistant city manager in the Oregon communities of Auburn, Cottage Grove, Coos Bay and Springfield — something Meeker lacked. He also holds a master’s from New York’s highly regarded Syracuse University, plus department head experience with Lane County, one of Oregon’s largest.
More importantly, perhaps, he projects a smooth personal style — one that promises to stir less disaffection among his department head subordinates and city council supervisors. He doesn’t display the rough edges that seemed to ruffle many with Meeker.
We shared the council’s enthusiasm for Towery when the city’s four finalists arrived in the middle of a winter snowstorm for interviews and a public meet and greet.
He had really done his homework, and it showed. His command of the community’s history, aspirations and style was impressive.
Feeling it had gone astray the last time, the council was intent on finding a personable candidate who projected relaxed confidence based on relevant experience. The council was not necessarily looking for a Taylor clone, but was determined to avoid anything even resembling a Meeker duplication.
It was looking for someone prepared to lead the parade without venturing too far out in front, to bring everyone else around before pushing ahead, to share credit liberally and keep key players well-apprised.
Our initial assessment is, mission accomplished. We hope that judgement holds as the years pass, and we won’t need to conduct another manager search until well into the 2020s, if not beyond. We have several major undertakings looming, and they demand a steady hand at the helm.