Lebanon’s new interim city manager getting up to speed quickly

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local

Nancy Brewer says she’s enjoyed her first month as interim city manager of Lebanon because she likes the city and how it functions.
“It’s been a really good experience so far,” said Brewer, 62, who started Oct. 5 in relief of city Engineering Services Director Ron Whitlatch, who had headed the city since August of 2019, when previous City Manager Gary Marks resigned.
Brewer comes to Lebanon from Corvallis, where she worked in city government for 30 years, the last 27 as finance director.
She said she’d considered the permanent position earlier this year, when the City Council was seeking applicants, but decided she wasn’t sure if she wanted to make the necessary long-term commitment.
“In professional circles, it’s generally assumed that as a city manager you need to make a five-year commitment,” she said. “You need to bring someone in, get them trained, and get their feet on the ground running.
“You want to make sure the community will benefit from that experience.”
She’s had experience at the top, serving as pro tem city manager for Corvallis “5½ or six years ago,” Brewer said.
“I heard about this opportunity, on an interim basis, to step into the city manager position in Lebanon and I decided to pursue this opportunity.”
City councilors voted unanimously at their Aug. 12 meeting to approve a one-year $140,000 contract with Brewer.
Brewer said she was attracted by “lots of things that are happening in Lebanon.”
“The community is growing, there’s some transition as the college is here and expanding, and there’s some really good economic development opportunities happening in town. Businesses are growing.”
She said she’s been particularly impressed by the fact that “frankly, even with COVID, a lot of local businesses are still opening and growing.
“That’s a testimony to the support the community gives to small businesses here; people shop at downtown stores, they’re going to eat in restaurants and if they don’t eat in, they’re doing carry-out.
“I think that’s nice support for small businesses that makes the community homey, comfortable.
“There are a lot of good things here.”
She said she’s found the City Council to be “super respectful of each other” and they work well together, and have a “good, deep understanding” of the issues.
The city staff is “highly motivated,” with “lots of talents and skills, I would say.”
“Everybody pitches in to help get things done.”
Brewer said she grew up in Kansas, where she attended Wichita State University, earning a master’s degree in public administration in 1990. When her husband was admitted to law school at Willamette University, they moved to Oregon.
They’re still big fans of Shockers basketball, which have a reputation as giant-killers in the NCAA March Madness tournaments, she noted.
Brewer said it’s a difficult time to recruit a permanent city manager because many are reluctant to leave their positions in coronavirus pandemic. Although she maintains that her presence is temporary, and she expects the City Council to resume its search for a permanent manager within the next year, she said she’s happy to be able to step in.
“Ron Whitlatch did a really good job, but he needed to get back to his engineering work. He was ready to quit dealing with the COVID impact on administrative stuff.
“I’m here on an interim basis, to let Ron get back work on the Westside Interceptor and other capital projects.”
Mayor Paul Aziz said Brewer is “picking up on things quick.”
“The thing that makes me feel good is staff is back to doing things that staff should be doing,” he said. “And somebody is managing that staff. Ron, our engineer, was amazing in being able to manage his job and manage the city, but she’s on top of things that are going on. She’s gotten to know the employees.”
Importantly, he noted, Brewer listens to the staff.
“I think one of the problems before is they could say stuff but it didn’t necessarily matter,” Aziz said. “To be a good leader, you have to take those things into consideration.
“We’ve had a really good transition with her so far.”