Sweet Home Finance Director moves post to Lebanon

By Benny Westcott

Sweet Home Finance Director Brandon Neish will be leaving his office Friday, July 29. However, he’s merely jumping into the same position, this time in the city of Lebanon.

He replaces Matthew Apken, who resigned in May after four and a half years. Neish reports for work Monday, Aug. 1.

“It’s a good move for me,” he said of the switch. “It will be good for me and my family. I’ll be closer to home and can get home at a more regular hour. There’s a lot of good in the transition.”

Neish and his wife Samantha live in Millersburg with their two children, 4-year-old Lucas and 1-year-old Emily.

He called his resignation “a new opportunity, and gives new leadership here, whenever that’s chosen, a chance to kind of start fresh.”

Looking ahead to his new environs, Neish noted that Lebanon “is certainly a little bigger. They have their own unique set of challenges. They’re growing quickly. And I think that expanded role gives me a chance to further my growth in my career and be able to help another community move forward.”

Recalling his four and a half years with Sweet Home (he joined the staff in January 2018), he said, “We’ve accomplished a lot within finance and across the city. We have upgraded a lot of equipment, funded a new city hall, secured funding for the wastewater treatment plant and embraced technology that was not here before. I’m proud of the accomplishments that the city has completed in the time that I’ve been here.”

He was most proud of the new City Hall constructed during his tenure. It opened in 2019.

“A lot of the initial legwork as far as securing the building itself and the property was done before I got here, but we did a lot of work to secure funding for it that did not require additional tax to taxpayers,” he said. “We put a lot of technology in this building that has been super beneficial, especially when COVID hit, and we were then able to get our meetings online. That’s something that I think was unheard-of in town, for this organization, anyway. I think this building reflects a lot of what I tried to accomplish here in one space.”

The city underwent plenty of other changes during his time, as did his department. One of its biggest was its move to a paperless office. Invoicing is now completed through the computer system, where it’s readily available and accessible to staff and auditors.

“I think that was a huge accomplishment,” he said. “A lot of finance is still paper-driven, so we have enjoyed that paperless environment. It’s cut down on our files a lot, and auditors have been pleased with the ability to just hop into the system and find the data that they need. Really, what we tried to do in my time was embrace the technology that we have, and I think we did a pretty bang-up job of that.”

That technology included a new digital budget book tool launched in 2019, which allowed community members access to the data they wanted or needed.

“A budget book each year is a 300-plus-page document, and I think we really tried to make it easy to find information,” Neish said. “Trying to give the community additional ways to get information was a big deal.”

Along with his direct responsibility for Sweet Home’s finance department and municipal court, he wore a number of other hats. Neish also handled, in an “off-the-books” sense, some of the city’s information technology work for a while and took on several human-resource functions as a “generalist,” keeping up with various legal implications and questions from supervisors.

“I think of all the things I’m looking forward to, the biggest one is that I get to refocus and actually do what I wanted to do with my career,” he said of the transition to Lebanon. “One of the things that I think I’m going to enjoy about Lebanon is that I’m going to be able to focus on what I’m hired for. In a small organization [like the city of Sweet Home], if you want the place to succeed, you do have to put everything into it. And sometimes it becomes more than a full-time job. And I think that it burns a lot of people out quickly. So going to Lebanon, that’s something I’m going to try to keep in mind, to help with my longevity, and to help with my family and the city as well.”

Neish expects the new job to be slightly different.

“With a bigger community you certainly have additional resources,” he said. “I’ll be able to dedicate my focus to finance. In a small community, you don’t necessarily get that ability. You wear a lot of hats, and at times you’re getting pulled in a lot of different directions.”

Neish grew up in Beaverton, graduating from Sunset High School in 2006. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business accounting at Western Oregon University in 2011, then worked for the school in various capacities and pursued a master’s degree in public affairs with an emphasis in local government at Portland State University. He was office coordinator in the WOU student government office, then moved to the budget and payroll office, where he worked for five years before coming to Sweet Home.

“When I first started, I didn’t have a lot of experience in the municipal world,” Neish said. “There’s a lot of differences in it compared to higher education. I think that some of the budget tools and the local budget law that I grabbed along the way is stuff that’s going to be super beneficial where I’m headed.”

He enjoyed the transition from working for a university to managing in municipal government.

“Being a public finance director is a lot of fun for me because I feel like I get to impact the lives of many,” he said. “Government finance is a peculiar animal, so to speak. I like to pride myself in open, transparent communication and working with folks to answer their questions about where their dollars are going or why certain decisions are made. I like to really give community members a chance to have a say.

“One of the strongest things that I’ll be able to bring is that I’m a planner and a forecaster,” he continued. “I don’t have a crystal ball necessarily, but you can use a lot of historical trend and information to build out what the future might look like, to try to avoid some of the pitfalls and plan for that future.”

He felt being a finance director is equal parts working with people and numbers.

“I’m a personable finance director, so to speak,” he said. “That’s not to say that finance directors aren’t nice or friendly, but some folks are really focused on the numbers, and I think that I have an ability to really engage with, understand and relate to people while focusing on numbers and forecasts.”

While he hasn’t yet had time to dive into Lebanon work, Neish noted that he wanted to see his Sweet Home successor help the city make significant progress on wastewater treatment plant upgrades.

“We’ve spent so much time on that and a lot of energy, and I’d love to see it come to fruition finally,” he said, adding that Sweet Home was “poised for a lot of growth and development, and I think that the community is ready for it. I’m looking forward to seeing how this city moves forward over the next few years.

“Everybody here cares a lot. I think everybody is in this to really make the community better, all the way from the council down to the line-level staff. The dedication and the focus to make this a better place for residents and visitors is astounding. It was a pleasure and an honor to get to see that unfold and work with them.”