A Great City Manager

I was a little surprised when I read last week that my colleague, Corvallis City Manager Jon Nelson, announced his intention to retire in July.  Jon is younger than I am and seems to enjoy the confidence of both the elected officials and the community that employs him.  I know, however, that Jon has been thinking about working in a different field for a number of years and that he has the skills and initiative necessary to succeed at whatever he tries.

Jon’s greatest strengths are his integrity and thoughtful insight.  Integrity is the most important asset of a city manager and also the trait most likely to make some people unhappy.  Jon has the strength of character to be honest with people even when he believes it is necessary to say something his listener may not want to hear.  I have never seen Jon lose his temper or be disrespectful, and I have never known him to compromise what he believes to be the truth.  He is humble enough to recognize that he is sometimes mistaken (he is a Beaver fan), yet confident enough to have the courage of his convictions.  I am sure that these qualities, combined with his intelligence and experience, are the traits that have allowed him to succeed for the past 19 years in Corvallis.

Inevitably, a few critics felt compelled to write anonymous posts to the newspaper celebrating Jon’s departure.  Several complained that he gave into the unions or received too much compensation.  City managers take a back seat to binding arbitration, other state-imposed restrictions, and their city councils when it comes to influencing labor contracts; and if I were a gambler, I would bet good money that Jon has saved the City of Corvallis far more than he has cost.  Fortune Magazine rated Corvallis as 48th among the 100 best places to live and start a business in 2008, and the city has received even higher ratings from other publications.  A community does not achieve this stature without an effective city government.

I have known Jon for the past 23 years, and he is among a small group of friends I call when I need advice about a tough issue.  I can always count on him for wise counsel and an unprovoked attack on the Oregon Ducks.  My revenge is that one of his children attends the University of Oregon and another is headed there in the fall.  As I wrote to him earlier this year, it’s nice to see children overcoming the handicaps imposed by their parents.

The Corvallis Gazette-Times published a nice editorial shortly after Jon’s announcement, and I’m sure he will see many other tributes as his retirement draws near.  Jon is widely respected by his colleagues in the profession, and his many contributions will be missed by all of us who knew him well.