Community meets city manager candidates

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Two top candidates for the city manager position were made available for a meet-and-greet with the public on Dec. 7 at the library.

John Morgan, pro tem city manager for the City of Gervais, and Brandon Neish, finance director for the City of Lebanon, were selected by the city council from among 33 applicants as the city’s next potential city manager.

John Morgan

Morgan was born in Lebanon and graduated in the Class of 1970. He has worked in local government since 1974, and has served in the capacity of city manager for several Oregon cities. He began his tenure in municipality operations in the planning division for the City of Salem, and remained in planning and community development for many years.

Morgan was tapped to act as interim city manager in Keizer on two separate occasions. In addition to Keizer, Morgan worked as city manager for the City of Sherwood for three years. He is currently the pro tem city manager for Gervais. Morgan has a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional government, and political science.

The city council chose Morgan as a candidate for the city manager position for his familiarity with community development and planning, along with an established reputation as a strong leader and problem solver.

Brandon Neish

Neish worked as budget manager for Western Oregon University for almost four years before becoming finance director for the City of Sweet Home in 2018. In 2022, he became Lebanon’s finance director. He is responsible for planning, organizing and directing all functions of the finance department. He has a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in public administration.

The city council chose Neish as a candidate for the city manager position for his familiarity with the City of Lebanon, analytical skills, fiscal management practices, experience with the intricacies of municipal budgets, and for “fostering an environment of transparency, accountability and collaboration.”

Both Neish and Morgan have already undergone interviews by a pre-selected community panel and members of the City’s leadership team, and will have final interviews with council on Dec. 13. The start date will be determined once a candidate has been selected.

Brandon Neish introduces himself at the meet-and-greet gathering Dec. 7.

In 2019, Gary Marks left his position as city manager after the city council requested his resignation. He served here five years. Lebanon’s engineering director, Ron Whitlatch, stepped in as interim city manager until Nancy Brewer filled the role a year later. Brewer resigned in July of this year and Whitlatch, once again, currently serves as interim.

Following Brewers’ resignation, the city council decided to take a different approach to finding a city manager. Historically, the city has gone through a professional agency to choreograph the recruitment process that costs about $30,000. The council opted, instead, to do its own recruitment through word of mouth and an online process in order to have more control over their options.

Human Resources Director Angela Solesbee said 20 of the 33 applicants were disqualified because they did not meet the mandatory qualifications. Of the remaining 13, grading standards were used to rank the applicants based on predefined criteria in the areas of education, training and experience.

From that process, only five candidates “rose to the top,” Solesbee said. The mayor and city council pre-screened four of the five (the fifth candidate did not respond to contact attempts) and determined Morgan and Neish displayed the characteristics, skills, qualities and abilities that they deemed essential to the position.