Canby Herald's inaugural Person of the Year recipient is city's administrator
Many people cringe a little looking back at 2016 with its extreme highs and lows, which is why it was noteworthy that everyone smiled down to the last person when we mentioned to citizens the selection of City Administrator Rick Robinson as the Canby Herald's first-ever selection as 2016's Person of the Year.
"He's been practically heroic getting Canby on a track towards modernity," City Councilor Tracie Heidt said. "Getting the library project on the tracks and completed so quickly, routing all the disparate partners involved and after the hurt feelings and divisiveness caused with the old project he very deftly navigated through the old wounds and to a building everyone pleased with. That's top notch."
Robinson doesn't see his role that way.
In fact, Robinson gets noticeably uncomfortable when the spotlight finds its way directly on him, and always sort of whitewashes his work with others.
In any case, with Robinson at the helm, the city finally opened the new public library and civic building and public interest in library programs continues to grow, he kept the city's transportation needs, especially related to Highway 99E improvements, in front of ODOT at a time when funding in smaller cities is difficult at best to come by, he continues to act as public works director and all that comes with that role, he's overseen as Canby's community events, like the Independence Day Celebration, continue to grow, the city block development -- and the list continues on and on.
"I just show up for work every day and do what I'm supposed to do," Robinson said.
Many of his peers see so much more.
"There are so many details he worked on for so many things that none of us got to see that he worked out," City Councilor Clint Coleman said. "He is the right quarterback at the right time and I'm a better person for knowing him."
Canby Planning Director Bryan Brown was one of the first people to call the Herald back with a desire to say a few words about his experience working with Robinson.
"There are several things he does a lot better than others," Brown said. "It's obvious he really cares about the city. He shows that by taking into account and reflecting on the impacts his decision will have on the future of Canby. It's obvious he considers things far beyond his time here."
Robinson actually came out of retirement two years ago to take the city administrator position.
He was born in Chico, Calif. and his family moved around a lot until he was about 15 years old. His mother became a school teacher — hers is an epic story of triumph the way Robinson tells it — and after sort of floundering in college, he married his wife, Kathleen, in 1974 and took his first "real" job working in a paint factory in quality control and later managed a shoe store.
Fast forward to 1977, Robinson was in what he calls "a very serious industrial accident," injured working in a lumber mill, and while he rehabbed for 10 weeks he began taking an accounting class.
"I decided to focus on accounting because I felt it was a critical skill to have in order to be a successful executive in either the public or private sector," he said.
Robinson accepted his first finance job working for Tehama County, which is between Chico and Redding in northern California, and at 32 years old in 1986 he ran for elected office and won the seat of county auditor-controller.
Robinson was reelected without opposition in 1990, and one month into his second term the Tehama County Board of Supervisors asked him to take over the county administrator's seat — a job he held until October 2004 when he was appointed chief executive officer of Stanislaus County where Modesto is the county seat. He retired from that position in December 2011.
Robinson said one of the biggest factors in considering going back to work was that working as a city administrator would put him in a position to be more accessible to the public and to work closer with people in the community.
"I always believe the surest way to success is to surround yourself with people more capable and confident than you and to allow them and support them and encourage them to do those jobs," he said. "That's what has resulted in the greatest number of successes and the best overall health of an organization. To be the most successful you don't adopt your organization to your style; you find ways to adapt to its style. From my perspective, the greatest change that's occurred is my adapting to this community.