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Fresh Eyes See Eugene’s Future

October 25th, 2019 by dk

Sarah Medary has been Eugene’s acting city manager for less than a week, but she’s no stranger to Eugene. She has worked her entire career for the city of Eugene, after graduating from the University of Oregon. She knows every spigot in every public park, because making that inventory was her first assignment. Short of being born here, she’s as home grown as anyone.

So it’s significant that she’s promised to view her role here with fresh eyes, as if she’s just arrived from Boise and seeing Eugene for the first time. (Note that she isn’t trying to view things as if she’s just arrived from Texas, where she grew up. That might be a stretch, even for the most elastic mind.)

Her “fresh eyes” approach should expose some overlooked assumptions that may have unconsciously limited the city’s ability to solve some of its most intractable problems. The city needs this “clean sheet of paper” exercise. Erase all the white boards that now-retired City Manager Jon Ruiz had installed across the city’s offices, and start over.

I know an attorney who has a ritual she follows whenever there’s a new court case to be argued on her client’s behalf. She buys a new set of highlight markers to break down the arguments being made in the legal briefs. Her system is always the same. Never start with worn-out markers. This is like that. Medary wants to enjoy that “new job smell.” All city employees should do the same.

What might a new hired gun who just swooped in from Idaho see?

Fresh eyes might question how the city coordinates with its rich mosaic of nonprofit organizations. Is it more haphazard than we’d like? The Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce does an admirable job of representing and coordinating local business interests. We may need a Chamber of Culture and a Chamber of Caring to do the same for the arts and social services.

Downtown Eugene has transformed itself over the decade since Ruiz arrived. The chain-link fences and pits are gone, replaced by a wide range of businesses that are thriving and growing. Do the city’s rules and fees fit a downtown that’s playing offense now, or have we gotten stuck in that defensive posture that was necessary for decades?

Springfield’s downtown is undergoing a similar renaissance. How can Eugene help its closest and largest neighbor — sharing our experience, expertise, and enthusiasm? They are also remaking their administrative leadership. What opportunities come with TWO clean sheets of paper?

Other towns in the “greater Eugene metropolitan area” may have needs that aren’t being met straightforwardly, because those needs have only recently emerged. As Mayor Lucy Vinis pointed out at Ruiz’s retirement party, Eugene has just recently grown from a large town to a small city. Expectations and capabilities change with that transformation.

The University of Oregon barely resembles the school it was in 2008. Driving down Franklin Boulevard is like watching a five-story chrysalis unfold before our eyes. Our community was built to crawl, but we’re being given the ability to fly.

Fresh eyes will see that.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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