Working as a city manager or city administrator means moving to the city or area where the job is located, and new Tigard City Manager Steve Rymer knows that only too well.
A native of Minnesota, Rymer spent 10 years as the parks and recreation director for the city of New Brighton, Minn., before becoming community services director for six years and then city manager for five years in Morgan Hill, Calif. His next job took him back to Minnesota, when he became the city administrator of Rochester in 2017.
But that is where Rymer’s normal move from job to job ended, as his new position in Tigard was literally in his own backyard.
“Due to a unique circumstance, my family and I moved to Portland one-and-a-half years ago,” Rymer said. “I spent the weekends in Happy Valley and commuted to Rochester every week for nine months. Then COVID hit, and I worked from my home office.”
Rymer said that when the city manager position opened in Tigard, he applied, and after a nationwide recruitment process to replace Marty Wine, who left to pursue other opportunities last fall, Rymer became one of three finalists.
The City Council worked to involve the community in the selection process. This included seeking input from citizens about qualities they wanted to see in a new city manager and inviting them to watch Mayor Jason Snider’s interviews with the three finalists and providing feedback.
“The stars aligned,” said Rymer, who was offered the job, started work Feb. 1, and has been busy getting up to speed on all things Tigard ever since. His plan of action for the first six weeks was “listening, assessing and acting” as he goes about his new job, and one of his current focuses is working on the 2021-22 budget.
“I’m not making any bold changes at this point,” Rymer said. “This is my third city manager position, and every city has things it is really good at and other things that need improvement. So, I may be bringing in parts of what I learned in other cities, but I like what I see so far.”
Asked about the police department, Rymer said that “I have a lot of confidence in Chief (Kathy) McAlpine, and I am very impressed with what I see planned for the future. I like that the City and police are working on transparency, and I look forward to working with the Public Safety Advisory Board.”
Rymer feels that communication and engagement are the two key factors in successful public policy, along with aligning them with sustainability from economic, environmental and equity perspectives. “It’s the triple bottom line and those are the three factors to consider when making decisions,” he said. “It is a three-legged stool, and you know what happens when one of the legs is shorter or longer than the others.”
Rymer plans to work on addressing racism; improving infrastructure, including roads, streams and parks; developing the future River Terrace 2.0; updating the Washington Square Regional Center Plan; and consolidating city services into two new buildings that would also include a new police station in City Hall and a new parking structure.
“We need to plan for long-term success with the consolidation of city services, which would bring a vibrancy to downtown, make safer buildings and save the public money by building new structures instead of seismic retrofitting of the old ones,” Rymer said. “City Hall and the police building were built a long time ago, and the needs are so different today.”
Then there are ongoing programs such as improving access to parks and increasing the walkability of Tigard.
So far, Rymer said his new job in Tigard has been a really positive experience for him, although he cautioned that the real test is what the City Council, City teammates and community members think.
“Tigard is a great community and has a really good future ahead,” he said. “I’m really glad to be here, and I’d love to talk about it again in six months.”
Rymer often wears a “Donate Life” pin, as he and his family are advocates for organ donation, although he said they were more active in Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic.
“There is always a shortage of organs, and donating organs is truly giving the gift of life,” he said.
Mayor Snider is feeling positive about the selection of Rymer as city manager.
“With more than 20 years of experience in local government, including serving as city manager in Morgan Hill, Calif., and Rochester, Minn., Steve Rymer is the right leader to move Tigard forward,” Snider said. “He understands the work required to further advance our city’s vision to become an equitable community that is walkable, healthy and accessible.”