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Eugene’s New City Manager Saved the City a Bundle

June 19th, 2020 by dk

Nine months ago, I suggested the city of Eugene might want to skip an expensive and time-consuming national executive search, and simply give the city manager job to the person who had been groomed for it by the outgoing city manager.

Sarah Medary has been Eugene’s city manager pro-tem since Jon Ruiz retired last fall. The city council this week voted unanimously to drop the suffix from her title and give her the permanent position without a widened search. There was no dissent.

City council meetings on Zoom reminds me of watching Hollywood Squares when I was a kid. I never know which of the council’s three white men will be channeling Paul Lynde’s penchant for quips and zingers. When they do and they happen to fill the center box on my screen, I find myself craving my mother’s grilled cheese sandwiches. (Hint: butter both sides of the bread.)

Unlike Hollywood Squares, there wasn’t much drama about how Monday’s episode would end. A couple of councilors suggested a nationwide search would be disingenuous, given the strength of support Medary has from staff, council, and across the community. Mayor Lucy Vinis confided after the decision that she was “counting on it.”

Many councilors cited the host of challenges that the city has faced over the past few months — pandemic, economic slowdown, civil unrest, curfews. Nobody said that everything has been done perfectly under Medary’s watch, but decisions were made with transparency, empathy and urgency.

Councilor Mike Clark started the discussion, saying Medary had been “baptized by fire” from recent events. Mayor Vinis ended the session by suggesting Medary had “endured the hardest interview process ever.” In between, many councilors echoed similar sentiments.

Medary herself had recommended that the city open up the process to a full search. Councilor Claire Syrett responded: “I hope that Sarah can get used to council taking a different track than the one that she is suggesting, because this is probably going to be a regular part of the job.”

Medary has been writing a letter each Friday to staff and the community. Last week, she wrote this, in response to the crescendo of cries to curb police violence: “I am committed to being a leader of that reform, regardless of my position with the City of Eugene.”

In that simple statement, she demonstrated the courage necessary to meet this moment. She made clear her commitment to this city and to the process of reform. Most tellingly, she promised to keep those commitments, even if she was passed over for the job. That’s genuine leadership.

Councilors ended the session looking for some sort of gesture to Medary for making their choice an easy one. A bonus wouldn’t feel right during economic hardship, but Medary’s appointment saves the city somewhere around $40,000. That’s roughly what a nationwide executive search would have cost. (Councilor Chris Pryor estimated $10,000 more. Springfield recently spent $10,000 less.)

Councilors should ask their new city manager where she would personally like to see those funds invested. And, at least this one time, they should do exactly as she suggests.


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

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