Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Longtime mayor enjoys managing Cornelius

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake keeps a satellite map of the city he runs on the wall of his City Hall office.Don’t try to tell Rob Drake that serving as city manager of Cornelius is a “step down” from being mayor of Beaverton.

“I don’t think so,” said Drake. “Service is service. And I don’t know what a ‘step down’ or ‘step up’ is. I’ve been very impressed with Cornelius.”

Drake served as mayor of Beaverton — Oregon’s sixth-largest city, with a population of 90,000 — for 16 years, from 1993 to 2009. Now he’s savoring his role as manager of a city with a fraction of Beaverton’s population.

“Actually, it’s much more hands-on in a smaller city, which I really enjoy,” he said. “We had about 500 employees in Beaverton and a $170 million budget. Here, we’re about 50 employees and a $30 million budget.”

Drake hired on with Cornelius in February 2012, and recently had his contract to run the city of 12,000 renewed for another year.

“I see a lot of positives here, and I think I’ve grown a lot professionally. Besides, I had no illusion I’d be mayor forever,” he said. “Mayors serve at the whim of the public, and it was time for a change. This community is very welcoming, and I’ve really enjoyed the people.”

Good as any

Drake said Cornelius’ government is as good as any he’s seen. “I’ve worked with a lot of city councils, and this is really a good group of folks,” he said. “I did not expect the core of the city staff to be so sophisticated, but it actually is. I feel really fortunate to have seasoned managers who know what they’re doing and want to serve.”

Ironically, one of Drake’s earliest jobs brought him to Cornelius.

“In the mid-1970s I was a recent college grad,” he explained. “I took a job with Wonder Bread, and had to spend my first year on a delivery route. I was in Cornelius, Forest Grove and Hillsboro two days a week, and got to know the community well.”

He said he still remembers the markets where he made his stops, although his biggest customers in Cornelius are now gone.

“I could unload half my truck at Flaig’s Market and Hank’s Thriftway,” he said.

Now, as city manager, Drake has to make the rounds in a different way, with much more at stake than fresh bread. He is ultimately responsible for the city’s finances, its library, planning, public works, police and fire departments.

“It’s no different than being a manager of a large business,” he said.

Management skills strong

Drake knows how to manage well, according to those who have worked with him.

“He’s an extremely competent manager,” said former Beaverton Police Chief David Bishop. “He’s extremely ethical, and he’s a team leader. He’s like a coach who works with you; not a dictator type. It was a pleasure working with him.”

Dave Waffle, who served as city manager of Cornelius for several years while Drake was Beaverton’s mayor, said he always appreciated Drake’s willingness to partner with nearby cities and towns as a way to boost the entire region.

“He is cooperative and supportive,” said Waffle, who currently works as Beaverton’s assistant finance director. “We’re all in this together. He embodies that spriit and philosophy.”

Waffle added that he is proud of how Drake rebounded from losing the 2008 mayoral election.

“He told me he has been much better prepared for Cornelius and all he faced there because he took those interim positions in Carlton and Tillamook,” Waffle said. “He did the necessary work to reorient himself to be a success.”

Headed to retirement?

After losing his bid for a fifth term as Beaverton’s mayor to Denny Doyle, Drake found himself on a winding path.

At first, he planned on retiring.

“But after about a year and a half,” he said, “my family and I decided I wasn’t done.”

Someone suggested he put his name on a League of Oregon Cities list for consideration as an interim city manager, and after a bit of back and forth with the idea, he did so. He didn’t expect much to happen, but he was in for a surprise.

“I hadn’t been on the list for a week and Tillamook called,” Drake recalled. “The job was part-time for six months, and they wanted me to help them hire a permanent city manager.”

Drake, who managed Tillamook from August 2010 until January 2011, didn’t consider trying for the position himself. Instead, he commuted from Beaverton to the coast two or three times a week.

“My wife is a Southern California girl, and she needs the sun,” he laughed, noting that Tillamook is notorious for being foggy and overcast.

Drake and his wife, Eileen, have been married for 35 years. They have two children: John, 31, and Jordan, 19.

Drake also has a daughter, Rachel, 41, from a previous marriage.

“Jordan was born during my second year as mayor,” Drake said with a hint of disbelief. “I’ve been parenting for a long time. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.”

From Tillamook to Carlton

After fulfilling his duties for Tillamook, Drake briefly returned to retirement. He turned down a couple jobs because they were full-time and relatively far away and would have interfered with his family time.

Then Carlton, another small town and fairly close by, called for Drake’s help in 2011.

“I spent six months there and really enjoyed that gig. I helped them hire a new city manager, too,” Drake said.

Immediately after that, Cornelius called, but this offer was different. Drake had signed up to be considered only for part-time positions, but Cornelius was looking for a bigger commitment.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted full-time,” he said. “But there were challenges here, and I thought I could help.”

He talked it over with his family and decided to accept.

To land Drake, who still resides in Beaverton, the council agreed to drop its stipulation that the city manager live in Cornelius.

“We’ve owned our home for a long time,” Drake said.

When he is not at city hall, Drake — who turns 64 this month — tries to stay active physically. He is still an enthusiastic runner, an activity he started at age 14. He also enjoys biking.

Fed up with graffiti

Cornelius and Beaverton both incorporated in 1893, but grew in dramatically different ways. Drake may enjoy the smaller city, but there is one advantage Beaverton has that he’d like to see in Cornelius: A commuter rail line.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to get to Hillsboro or Beaverton without being in a car?” he said.

On the other hand, he turns almost angry when discussing a problem the city has been dealing with lately. He blasted a recent rash of graffiti as hurtful to Cornelius.

“It’s the broken window syndrome,” he explained. “If you drive by a place with windows broken out, it looks like nobody cares.”

Then, the theory goes, more windows get broken and it spirals downward.

“I wish we could catch more of them at it. They need to understand the pain they cause, and (that) they’re making Cornelius look like a scary place to be,” he said.

Drake urges local business owners and home owners to immediately paint over graffiti: “The more people do that, the less likely it is that it will continue.”

While the problems may differ from Beaverton to Cornelius, Drake’s approach to his job does not: “This is still a service business, whether a big city or a little one.”

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