Communities, Front Page, Oakridge/Westfir

Bryan Cutchen shares personal report card about his experience as Oakridge’s city administrator

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Bryan Cutchen,oakridge city administrator
Bryan Cutchen wraps up his official duties at City Hall on Monday, Feb. 28, after serving as Oakridge’s chief executive officer since mid-2019. Herald photo

By DEAN REA/Editor/The Herald — Oakridge residents were enjoying a mild summer when Bryan Cutchen reported for work as the city administrator on July 15, 2019.

The Lane Council of Governments had wrapped up recruiting this retired Navy rear-admiral. During his military career, Cutchen amassed more than 5,000 hours flying various aircraft and worked in management positions and as a member of the Chief of Naval Operations staff in the Pentagon.

COVID-19 had not disrupted life, and this Highway 58 community welcomed Bryan and his wife Sissy to the Mountain Biking Capital of the Northwest.

However, the challenges that Cutchen and the city faced were staggering. A toxic relationship eventually developed with several council members. This led Cutchen to resign effective Monday because of what he characterized as a lack of “trust and respect.”

The Highway 58 Herald invited Cutchen to describe three areas of his work experience: (1) challenges he faced as the city administrator, (2) objectives he sought to achieve and (3) unresolved issues facing the city.

His response follows:

oakridge city hall staff,bryan cutchen,Leah brewer,colleen shirley, jackie taylor, wendy whitney
A final moment together for the administrative team at Oakridge City Hall (from left): Leah Brewer (utility billing/accounts payable), Colleen Shirley (finance director), Jackie Taylor (city recorder/assistant planner), Bryan Cutchen (city administrator) and Wendy Whitney (clerk of court). Herald photo

Challenges:

A staff in disarray:

When arriving in July 2019, the staff had been operating with an interim city administrator for approximately eight months. The finance director had quit one month prior, and the city was relying upon the LCOG finance specialist to manage its payroll, reconciliations and budgeting. There was no fire chief on the staff. The police chief was in charge of both departments.

Financial chaos:

The city was in an unacknowledged financial crisis. It had been using water revenues and the Oakridge Industrial Fund capital to balance the budget.

Neglected infrastructure:

The infrastructure of the city was aging and in need of capital investment. While significant investment had been made in the water system, the investment was in mediation with the contractor who completed the 2017 Water System Improvement Project. The wastewater system had been suffering from excessive infiltration and inflow for over a decade. The Willamette Activity Center was in need of over $1M in investment.

Objectives:

Financial discipline:

Brought the budget into compliance with Oregon Budget Law, accurately illuminating the causes of the significant budget shortfall the city is experiencing. Corrected several deficiencies including administrative overhead allocations, restricted fund usage and internal controls. Brought the enterprise funds (water, wastewater & stormwater) back to self-supporting financial status.

Staff stabilization:

Assumed supervision of a staff with critical vacancies and a broken workflow. After making several difficult staff reductions due to the budget shortfall identified above, stabilized the staff resources, allocating responsibilities logically and with maximum effectiveness to minimize impact on the residents. Increased the esprit de corps of the entire staff through effective delegation and increased inter-staff communications and coordination.

Operational effectiveness:

In the 2.5 years since reporting, seven critical ordinances have been adopted, including Council Rules of Procedures, a Public Contracting Manual, zoning changes to increase economic development, and updating the floodplain ordinance to ensure the availability of floodplain insurance to the residents of the city.

Worked with the school district to install community Wi-Fi to enable remote learning for city children during the pandemic.

Proactively procured a FEMA emergency grant to fund six COVID-19 Vaccine Drive Thru Clinics for the public. Greatly increased the availability of the vaccine to the isolated rural city.

Leveraged the Small Cities Allotment Program to pave streets in critical need of resurfacing at no cost to the city.

Assembled several capital improvements projects to shore up the critical city infrastructure. These include the refurbishment of water supply well #2, extension of utilities in the Oakridge Industrial Park, installation of a washer compactor at the wastewater plant and numerous grant-funded projects.

Emergency Response:

Published an updated Emergency Response Plan in 2019. Effectively led city preparation and response to emergency situations. These include Labor Day 2020 fires, Kwis and Gales fire multi-agency response in August 2021, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unresolved issues:

Advanced life support service:

This is the key issue facing the city. The current structure of the advanced life support service (ALS) that the city provides to Ambulance Service Area (ASA) 7 is unsustainable. It places an undue financial burden on the city budget.

The Lane County assigned ALS service was intended to be a self-supporting service. Many ASA’s have transitioned to support from Special Districts. Oakridge is unique in a city supported ALS service. Given the logistical and manning challenges to support the service, this ALS will never be self-supporting in its current structure.

Engagement is needed with Lane County, specifically Lane County Health, to transition this service to a sustainable model. We all know the current response time of 10 minutes is critical to the population of Oakridge. To accept a longer response time is not an acceptable alternative. Yet this would be the outcome with surrendering the ASA back to Lane County to recompete the contract.

Continue to promote economic development activity in Oakridge:

There are initiatives underway to improve the tax base in Oakridge, specifically in the Oakridge Industrial Park. It is imperative this effort continues.

Rear Admiral (Ret.) Bryan Cutchen can be reached through his private firm, Cutchen Consulting & Communications, at [email protected]

City administrator’s job description

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thursday night, Feb. 24, the Oakridge City Council chose Kevin A. Cronin of Portland as its interim city administrator. The job description reads: “Under limited supervision and utilizing broad goals and objectives, the city administrator is responsible for planning, directing and supervising activities of all city employees, is responsible for the proper administration of the policies and affairs of the city, is responsible for policy development and implementation, manages and control functions of all city departments, performs duties and functions relative to a wide range of city programs and functions and reports to the mayor and to city councilors.”

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