The woman who really runs McMinnville
A detailed seating chart is spread across a large table of the second floor or the administrative offices at McMinnville City Hall. Working alone, Rose Lorenzen pores over lists of names, ponders them for a time, then makes table and seat assignments for the 2013 Mayor’s Ball.
The layout she’s looking at depicts the main event room at the McMinnville Community Center. And this marks the 15th time she’s been tasked with assigning seats for the ball, the signature event in McMinnville’s charity fundraiser season.
Over the course of her 20 years and counting at city hall, Lorenzen has seen it all. The Mayor’s Ball is but one of a long list of events and activities she has overseen.
Mayor Ed Gormley and his wife, Candy, came up with the idea for the ball, a fundraiser for McMinnville’s Kids on the Block after-school enrichment program. But for virtually its entire history, they have looked to Lorenzen to ensure everything went smoothly with its planning and execution.
Modest almost to a fault, she credits the success of this and every other civic event to a dedicated and capable staff and a cadre of selfless volunteers. Lorenzen admits her work for the city has been rewarding, though.
“I wear many hats,” she said. “The confidence I have to carry out all of them stems from a decision I made as a teenager.”
In 1968, during her junior year at Centralia High School, she signed up for a foreign exchange program offering her the opportunity to spend a year in Germany and Austria.
“It was a turning point for me,” she said. “Taking that trip, and experiencing situations that required me to remain calm and be self-reliant, boosted my confidence tremendously.”
After graduation, she moved to Portland. There, she met her first husband, who had grown up in Yamhill.
In 1974, the couple moved to Yamhill County.
Lorenzen initially landed a job with a McMinnville CPA firm. Later, she and her husband struck out on their own with Incahoots, an eclectic plant and gift shop, now on Northeast Baker Street.
“I love plants,” she said. “I am also into coffees and teas. So it was a perfect fit.”
At the time, the shop was located on Third Street, near its intersection with Ford. But the landlord had other plans, which forced them to move just a few months into their tenure.
“We moved into the spot where Found Objects is now,” she said. “That worked for two years, then we moved into a large space where Pacific Light Studios is now located.”
Pregnant with her first child in 1981, she had to make a tough decision. “I realized I couldn’t be a mom and also run a business full time,” she said, “so we sold Incahoots and I had my son.”
In 1982, she went back to work. Dr. Francis Kenyon needed an office manager and she filled the bill.
After six years with the highly regarded physician, she accepted a similar job with a dentist of like renown, Dr. George Abdelnour.
In the interim, her marriage ended, leaving her with two small children to care for on her own. “I had to have medical insurance for my kids,” she said, “so I applied with the city.”
An opening in billing caught her attention. She ended up filling it for five years.
In 1997, both the planning department’s secretary and the city manager’s assistant quit simultaneously.
“It was during a recession, so I ended up doing both jobs,” she said. “I did the meeting notes for city council and planning.”
As a result, she got to know all the city’s operational processes, as well as all the problems and pressures city officials face.
“I was very cool,” she said. “I learned so much on the job.”
But she said, “By 2000, the combined workload became too much and the job was split in two again. I had to make a choice between city hall and planning. I chose the White House.”
That quip about city hall, housed in a former residence featuring a sparkling white exterior, reflects the kind of relaxed, friendly atmosphere that imbues city government in McMinnville.
When Lorenzen looks out her second-floor window, she can see the city’s new civic hall, almost next door; its still-modern fire station, directly behind that; and a piece of its new police station, across the street.
The array of civic facilities is lined up all in a row along Second Street, with city hall anchoring its east end.
“We have about 160 full-time employees,” she said. She went on to enumerate the departments from memory — “administration, police, fire, library, municipal court, parks and recreation, planning, building, engineering, public works and wastewater services.”
These days, Lorenzen’s plate is always full with city council and human resources work. Everyone has a job description that he or she is rated against.
Part of her job is to constantly update job descriptions according to changing needs. Whether it’s the police chief or a utility worker, the depth and breadth of each job is subject to regular re-evaluation.
“Our most recent hire on the administrative level has been the new library director, which was a promotion from within,” she said. “The finance director goes back four years or so, when we hired Marcia Baragary.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover. We try to make working here enjoyable.”
An annual year-end celebration is the city’s way of thanking its employees for a job well done. All of the employees and their spouses are invited.
During Lorenzen’s 15-year tenure as administrative assistant to the city manager, one of the achievements she is happiest about is the construction of the small but stately civic hall.
“We so badly needed a permanent place for city council to meet,” she said. “The new civic hall is now home to the council meeting and municipal court. It’s a wonderful public face for the city.”
Over the last three years, city employees have also been invited each January to a Martin Luther King luncheon, followed by a volunteer food-sorting exercise at the Yamhill Community Action Partnership.
Police and fire employees are represented by unions. Other city employees are not, but an employee representation committee has been created to communicate with Lorenzen and her boss, City Manager Kent Taylor.
Taylor, who celebrated his 25th anniversary in the post last year, is known for running a tight ship, which has served to keep the city financially stable in tough economic times.
“Kent has a capable air about him,” Lorenzen said. “He is calm, reassuring and very level-headed. It’s not exciting, but it makes the city run well.”
It also creates a positive atmosphere.
“I love it here,” she said. “I even love this old house. It’s such a warm and friendly environment.”
It would appear, at least for the near future, that the woman who really runs McMinnville is settled in on the second floor of the charming former residence that serves as the nerve center of the city.
And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — observing how applying acumen with a subtle yet attentive approach has set the course of a rock solid city.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 503-687-1227.