Next week, Albany’s new city manager, Peter Troedsson, will take over and begin sharing his thoughts with you through a weekly column. Weekly messages from the manager have been a tradition here for at least the last 30 years. I have appreciated the chance to use the column as a means of communicating thoughts and feelings about issues affecting the City and me. It’s hard to personally reach out to 500 or more people who are working or volunteering for the City at a given time, so publishing a column is at least a way for others to know something about what the manager is thinking. I have also appreciated the many comments I’ve received from people expressing their reaction to something I’ve written; although in truth, I liked the positive responses better than the nasty ones.
Years ago, one of my daughters-in-law read one of my columns and commented acidly something to the effect of, “My, how profound.” I value her opinion and was a little chastened by what was probably an accurate assessment. I have since tried less for profundity and worked harder to offer a mixture of unvarnished honesty and humor by telling stories related to what we do.
My final story is about my little grandson Isaac, who along with his parents, siblings, cousin, and me took a Fathers’ Day hike last Sunday on the Baker Creek Trail. Isaac is wise beyond his three years as proven by a comment he made a couple of weeks ago when his mother expressed how sad he made her when he got into some chocolates while she was taking a shower. He proudly explained, “It made me happy.” Isaac was an energetic hiker through most of our walk, jumping over logs, finding mud, splashing in puddles, and generally enjoying himself. He reached a point, however, where he decided I needed to carry him. I was ok with hauling him along for about a quarter-mile until my back started to hurt and I wanted to put him down. I explained the problem, and he responded, “So, my feet hurt.”
Like Isaac, my feet are starting to hurt after walking along the city management trail for the past 30 years. It’s time to do something different, and I’m looking forward to a retirement that will continue to include work, but also more time with Isaac and the rest of my grandchildren. I am most grateful for the chance to associate with so many good people in Albany and particularly for the opportunity to work with great colleagues at the City. I owe you all a sincere “thank you” for your service to the community, which in turn has made my job rewarding and enjoyable.
Time is relative and, like all human constructs, an imperfect way to define our lives. I have to remind myself that most of human history is not recorded and; therefore, it’s probable that much of it did not include a formal concept of time. Things just happened. You wake up one morning and you have a full head of hair; you wake up another morning and most of it’s gone. Right now I’m working on a computer as the City Manager of Albany; and with barely a pause, I’m a consultant visiting local government officials in Dar es Salaam. Beyond that, who knows?
Given that time is an artificial construct that helps us organize our lives, I am not of the opinion that you can waste it. I prefer purpose and direction, but much of what I regard as the greatest blessings in my life was spontaneous. I certainly did not plan to get married at some designated time in my life, nor did I set targets for accomplishing goals before reaching a predetermined age. All of this may explain why I didn’t finish college until my mid-thirties. I had no idea when I would retire until about a year and half ago. I reached that decision when I realized I was approaching the end of my lifetime quota of evening meetings.
Time also play tricks on us. Last night, my 14-year-old granddaughter called me to settle a dispute between her and my mother-in-law (her great-grandmother). Taylor, my granddaughter, had a memory of going to the Portland Airport where my name was called over the loudspeaker to help remove my mother-in-law from an airliner. According to Taylor, Great-grandma was misbehaving on the plane, and I had to be called to help get her off the jet. Neither my mother-in-law nor I had any memory of this alleged event; and if you knew my mother-in-law, you could imagine her attitude toward this story. Even after a lengthy conversation, I’m still not sure my granddaughter believed her memory just wasn’t true. Any older person looking for amusement should sit down with their adult children and ask them about childhood memories. Warning! Do not dredge up old memories with a spouse unless your relationship is very secure.
Time, of course, has been on my mind recently because I’m starting a new phase in my life and will soon be seeing less of some important people and places. I have very vivid memories of starting work in Albany a dozen years ago, when I had only three grandchildren, a mustache, and a Buick LeSabre. Now I have 17 (soon 18) grandchildren, no facial hair, and a Ford. Somehow those changes occurred, without contradiction, overnight and over the course of many years. My memories of working here for the past 12 years may be a little warped by time; but I know with certainty that while I might have changed a few things, I will always treasure the whole experience.
I have been writing columns about local government in one form or another for nearly 30 years, and I just realized that after this one I only have two more to publish as Albany’s city manager. Earlier this week, I was talking with Marilyn Smith about an issue that has caused me some irritation over the past few years; and I started a column on the subject before realizing that as I near retirement, I prefer to focus on positive things.
My Mothers’ Day gift to my wife was a short stay at Crater Lake Lodge — a place we have seen many times, but where we never stayed before. The Lodge offers decent accommodations, but the real reason to stay there is the natural beauty that surrounds you. I have visited the lake countless times over the past 60 years without losing the sense of wonder I felt as a child seeing it for the first time. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, and it can take many forms; but to me, it is a tangible thing that influences my life for good. I think that’s why I choose to live in Oregon, where we have made choices over the years to trade short-term gains for the long-term survival of a place that nourishes not only our bodies, but our souls.
We are fortunate in Albany to have easy access to natural beauty, both within the city limits and in nearby forests, mountains, lakes, rivers, and the Pacific Ocean. As I’m writing this column, someone outside my office is watering the flower pot that hangs on a sidewalk lamppost. Yesterday, I listened to reports from university students about their appreciation of Albany’s many assets and their views about how to make the community even better. Many people here believe, as I do, that no community will remain healthy or thrive without an appreciation of the need for beauty in our lives. Perhaps that’s why a local citizen called me last week to complain about the trees being removed in the downtown. She was much happier when I explained that the ugly asphalt patches will soon be replaced with new trees.
Albany’s future depends on remaining an attractive place to live, not only in terms of jobs, infrastructure, and affordability, but also by paying attention to our surroundings. Great progress has been made over the past 20 years or so, and more remains to be done. I once heard a long-term mayor of one of the U.S.’ most successful cities claim that in the long-term, “Ugly is more expensive than beautiful.” My experience supports that conclusion.